MADURAI: The recent demise of R Gandhi, who was employed by the TANGEDCO as a temporary labourer, has brought to the fore several issues plaguing the temporary labourers and their families. Kin of around 100 temporary workers, who lost their lives during duty in the last 15 years, have not yet received even a single rupee as a death claim, and other compensatory benefits.
On Monday last, Gandhi died due to electrocution while on duty. Knowing full well what the families of other deceased temporary labourers had gone through, Gandhi's kin refused to receive his body and staged a protest at Government Rajaji Hospital in Madurai. Officials from the TANGEDCO held discussions with the family and promised to provide them compensation.
Over 10,000 men and women have been working as temporary field staff for the power generation corporation for the past 20 years. They are engaged in various positions, including helper, electrician, and wireman, but are denied a work contract, fixed salary and other allowances.
"Nearly 100 such staff have died during duty in the last 15 years, and many others have developed disabilities. These labourers' families have been running pillar to post for the past several years seeking benefits," said R Muthupandi, Tamil Nadu TANGEDCO Contract Labourers Association President.
"As per a contract drawn out by TANGEDCO on February 22, 2018, the temporary staff should receive a fixed wage of `380. However, this is not being disbursed. These persons work through even natural calamities, including floods and cyclones, but the government never accords them any recognition. Though there are over 33,000 vacancies in the corporation, the authorities delay the regularisation of temporary staff. In 2008, 21,800 temporary labourers were recruited to fill unfilled vacancies. Chief Minister MK Stalin must take steps to carry out a similar recruitment exercise," Muthupandi said.
In June last, when an electric pole near KK Nagar developed a snag, temporary labourer S Vishnupriyan (23) was pressed into service. While working on the pole, Vishnupriyan fell down and sustained severe injuries.
"The authorities refused to rush me to the Government Rajaji Hospital, fearing that they might face some official action. They held discussions for three hours and finally admitted me to a private hospital, where I underwent surgery. I am not able to walk even now. They paid the hospital expenses, but refused to pay even a single rupee as compensation for my disability," said Vishnupriyan, a Diploma holder in Electrical and Electronics Engineering.
If a regular staff member of the corporation dies during duty, his or her legal heir is entitled to a job on compassionate grounds along with other benefits, including provident fund, insurance claim, and gratuity. CITU contract labourers' union office-bearer T Arivalazhan claimed,
"The higher officials in TANGEDCO are aware of the engagement of temporary staff in all types of fieldwork. The previous government had facilitated the appointment of 10,000 gangmen (temporary post) after taking bribe from the applicants."
Refuting the allegations, a higher official from the corporation said no contract labourers are appointed in the TANGEDCO. "We outsource some works, and the contractor of those employees has the responsibility of providing the insurance cover," he said.
Speaking to TNIE, TANGEDCO Executive Engineer - Madurai South N Mohan said the corporation does not provide insurance cover for temporary staff. "If a common man dies due to electrocution, the government usually releases `5 lakh compensation to the victim's family, and temporary workers' families can also avail the same," he added.