NLU Delhi students, alumni protest against termination of 55 house-keeping staff; allege violation of labour laws
The mass termination of 55 contractual safai karamcharis (house-keeping staff) from National Law University, Delhi (NLU Delhi) has prompted students and alumni to register strong protest. The student body entered Day 9 of the protests on Sunday.
Students assert that 55 contractual workers, who have been working for NLU Delhi since its establishment over a decade ago, were terminated from service without any prior written notice. The termination is said to be in violation of labour laws applicable to the University.
No written notice
The 55 house-keeping staff, engaged under a contract with White Fox and Golden, were terminated from service in December last year. NLU Delhi entered into a contract with Rajendra Management Group (RMG) to hire 30 new workers instead.
The students had earlier called for an urgent meeting with the administration last December to discuss the retention of the workers. However, in the meeting that was conducted subsequently, with the participation of the new contractor, the students were not allowed to make verbal representations regarding their grievances.
Further, a statement issued by the students informs that the representatives of the terminated workers were also not allowed to participate in the meetings. During the meeting, it was proposed to the students that only 10 of the 55 workers terminated would be retained and the rest would be adjusted to work in alternate sites of the new contractor.
Speaking to Bar & Bench, the students pointed out that such a proposal would not be a solution, particularly given that the terminated workers had devoted their lives to working for NLU Delhi for over a decade.
On December 31, the old workers were prevented from entering the main gate of the University. As per the student statement, it was only at this point that they were verbally informed of their termination from service by the Assistant Registrar and the Section Officer. On the other hand, in a meeting held last week with the students, the NLU Delhi Administration asserted that it had no obligation to provide the terminated workers with a written notice.
Labour laws violated
Students have raised protest that the new arrangement has not only resulted in the unlawful termination of 55 housekeeping staff, but may also lead to the exploitation of the staff engaged in their stead.
In this regard, a 2009 notification issued by the Government of Delhi is highlighted. The notification deals with the invitation of tenders for hiring outsourced sanitation services by institutions and organisations. It requires that minimum requirement of Safai Karamcharis are assessed in line with the Staff Inspection Unit (SIU) norms.
Notably, Clause 2 and Clause 3 of this notification require that this assessment is carried out before inviting bids by contractors, to ensure that the labour norms are complied with. Moreover, the deployment of lesser manpower, exceeding 20% saving on efforts, is specified as constituting exploitation of the contract workers. Such bids would also stand disqualified, according to this notification.
The students further point out that there is no record to show that NLU Delhi has conducted this minimum worker requirement assessment in line with the SIU norms, as required in the 2009 notification. No such document has been provided by the University, leading to concerns that there is a high likelihood that no such exercise was undertaken at all.
While this is the case, a Notice for Expression of Interest for Housekeeping Services issued by NLU Delhi had specified a requirement of 71 workers for housekeeping duties (51 male workers and 20 female workers).
Concerns have been raised that this would mean that a heavier workload could now be shouldered by the 30 workers proposed to replace the 55 safai karamcharis who were unlawfully terminated, leading to the exploitation of the workers engaged by University as defined in the 2009 notification.
As pointed out by the students,
"Assuming that the University required a minimum of 55 Safai Karamcharis (the total number of the workforce under the old contractor), there is no basis for accepting the Technical Bid (by RMG dated 24.09.2019) only for 30 Safai Karamcharis by the University. This is more than 20% reduction in the number, which is disallowed as per the notification as it counts as exploitation."
Additionally, a cabinet resolution passed by the Delhi Government in 2018 also requires new contractors to retain at least 80% of the the earlier workforce, even when there is a change in contract.
The students point out this resolution is also being violated with the termination of the 55 safai karamcharis.
Student protests meet adamant administrative response
Student protests on the issue began on January 4 this year. Bar & Bench was told that the protests followed after multiple emails addressed to the administration failed to any response.
Peaceful protests were conducted earlier at the University’s main gate, with the participation of the terminated workers. However, the protestors were forced to disperse from the main gate area after the Delhi Police cited the imposition of Section 144 of the Code of Criminal Procedure.
The workers' presence in the protests was also marked by placing their slippers along with their names within the campus as a mark of symbolic protest.
Student protests continued within the campus, with little response from the NLU Delhi administration. The protestors later entered the administrative block and carried out sloganeering in front of the Vice-Chancellor’s office.
Among the innovative means adopted to advance their cause was a move to place flowers and a note listing the rights of the workers outside the Vice-Chancellor's door, as part of the protests on Day 7.
Amidst protests on campus, some of the students were summoned before the Vice-Chancellor, where they presented the grievances. However, students state that the the administration was not receptive to the same, insisting that the best they could do is to see that the terminated workers are relocated to alternative sites of the new contractor.
In view of the protests, the administration has also warned of setting up a proctorial board to enquire into their “misconduct", the students state.
In the meanwhile, some of the students also tried approaching the new contractor, RMG, raising concerns of worker exploitation by querying how the 30 proposed workers would be divided to cover the work at NLU Delhi. However, the contractor declined to divulge any information, instead asserting that the students were third parties.
While speaking to Bar & Bench, however, the students pointed out that the information sought for ought to be provided in the interest of accountability, and that, in any case, they should be in the public domain.
Demands made by the protestors
The students have presented the following as their core demands, i.e.
Immediate cancellation of the invalid contract for housekeeping services with Rajendra Management Group (RMG).
100% retention of old workers as mandated by the Delhi Govt. Cabinet Resolution No.F.10(6)/PWD-1/Misc./2016/Vol.IV/14144 dated 9th October 2018. The resolution asks the new contractor to keep a “minimum” of 80% of earlier manpower which could be read as a maximum of 100%, notes a student statement .
The University must strictly comply with the labour laws and statutory provisions.
Open to discussion, says Vice Chancellor
When Bar & Bench reached out to Vice Chancellor Dr Ranbir Singh, he said,
"NLU Delhi…is always open to have a discussion with the students. We already had a discussion with them….If there is any dispute even now, I am prepared to sit with them and resolve…"
Alumni issues statement in solidarity
The turn of events have also prompted a number of NLU Delhi alumni to issue a statement condemning the termination of the 55 safai karamcharis as well as “subsequent attempts of the University administration at silencing the workers.”
The statement reads,
"Several of these workers are women, differently-abled, sole breadwinners and belong to extremely marginalised sections of the society. The apathy of the University administration to the everyday struggles of these workers and the reckless disregard being demonstrated to the consequence of such mass termination is alarming…”
Echoing the the demand made by the protesting students at the University, the alumni has also called for the full reinstatement of the terminated workers.
“We demand full reinstatement of all the workers as permanent workers and an immediate revocation of Section 144 IPC from the area outside the University.”