Sujatha Fernandes is a Professor of Political Economy and Sociology at the University of Sydney, and a visiting scholar at the Center for Place, Culture, and Politics at the Graduate Center, CUNY in New York City.
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- There are around 35,000 sanitation workers in Mumbai. Of these, some 28,000 are permanent employees and 7,000 are hired on contract. Permanent sanitation workers have their basic working conditions protected by law. They are provided with uniforms, payment slips, medical insurance, and paid leave. Contract workers have none of these benefits. As migrants, they do not have ration cards or permanent housing either. Most of them live in unauthorised shanties that are frequently demolished, which forces them to periodically search for a new spot to build their homes again. It is not uncommon for the work of permanent employees to also be subdivided among contract workers. After years of persistent ground-level organising, the movement has come closer to the abolition of the system of subcontracting, which has made sanitation work one of the most dangerous, precarious, and dehumanising jobs in India today.
- All of the contract workers employed by the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation are Dalits, who are migrants. [...] Several sanitation workers [...] are forced to leave their homes in rural areas in search of work because of drought conditions, which are becoming worse each year. The two main areas they come from are Marathwada in Maharashtra, and Salem and Thiruvannamalai in Tamil Nadu. They are often landless, or unable to make a living from the small plots of land they own. [...] The wages for contract workers are barely enough to survive on, and many of them are malnourished. They collect garbage with their bare hands, without hand gloves, facemasks, shoes, or a uniform. There are no facilities at the work stations for employees to wash their bodies. [...] The workers suffer from various illnesses because of the poor working conditions and often die at a young age. Tuberculosis and other lung diseases are common due to the kinds of gases they are exposed to and the conditions they work in. There are frequent accidents.