MADURAI: Exploitation of cleanliness workers has always been a burning issue. The profit margins for the workers are thin and the cleanliness workers' legal entitlements are often neglected. What looks like a case of exploitation and discarding by the government in the district is that over 140 temporary cleanliness workers, recruited on a three-month contract for the duty at the Covid-19 wards in Government Rajaji Hospital (GRH) and Government Hospital for Thoracic Medicine (GHTM), were shown the doors within two months. To add to their woes, they have not been paid salaries for the work they carried out at the hospitals.
An official at the GRH told TNIE that while the State was fighting the battle against the virus with a woefully inadequate number of doctors and cleaning staff, the collector, based on the instruction from the Department of Medical and Family Welfare, took steps to recruit cleanliness workers temporarily for GRH and GHTM during the peak of the second wave.
Between May and July, as many as 140 cleanliness workers (GRH - 90, GHTM - 50) were recruited and were orally promised three-month contracts, with a monthly salary of just Rs 8,000, he added. Though workers were posted on duty through the Dean Dr A Rathinavel, they were managed by a Mumbai-based manpower agency that recruits and manages cleanliness workers on regular duty at the GRH and GHTM, shared the official.
Speaking to The New Indian Express, a 35-year-old former worker from Mathichiyam said, "I am a carpenter and having lost my livelihood due to the lockdown, I opted for the work when some of my neighbours told me about temporary recruitment. I hoped to feed my family out of the three-month job instead of letting my family starve. However, I have not received my payment yet."
At the time of appointment, the workers were asked to sign a self-declaration form that stated that they were fully aware of being recruited by the collector based on the instructions of the Chief Minister MK Stalin.
A 34-year-old cobbler and former worker said, "While we were promised a three-month work period, we were shown the doors by the Dean without notice, on July 21, within two months of our contract. We were told that our contract was terminated with immediate effect since not many Covid patients were in hospital treatment and that our salaries would be settled. It has been nearly a fortnight since our sudden termination and none of us has received salary since our recruitment."
A 39-year-old former worker from Anna Nagar who called it "blatant exploitation of illiterate workers on part of the district administration" said that the temporary workers were on Covid duty on all seven days in a week, pushing wheelchairs, stretchers with Covid patients on, cleaned toilets, disinfected wards and so on.
A key official in Chennai from the manpower agency that managed these workers told TNIE that in Tamil Nadu, the agency managed such temporary cleanliness workers at the hospitals in two districts only -- Government Sivaganga Medical College Hospital (67 workers) and at GRH.
"As a special arrangement, their salaries are to be disbursed by the collectors from the Covid-19 funds, instead of the Directorate of Medical Education. While the salaries of the workers terminated in Sivaganga recently have been paid, it is only at Madurai that the issue is long pending for reasons unknown," the official added.
Staff at the GRH said, "When temporary workers face salary issues and unannounced termination, due to the ill-repute, none would come forward to render a helping hand to the hospital when there is a third wave calling for more manpower.
The workers submitted a petition to the collector in this regard last week, and the issue was taken to the knowledge of the Ministers -- P Moorthy and PTR Palanivel Thiagarajan -- five days ago, official sources said.
Commenting on the issue, the Collector, Dr S Aneesh Sekhar, who is also the Chairman of the District Health Society through which the recruitment was made, said, "Funds are yet to be received from the State Health Department."