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A notice has been issued on behalf of Delhi's Labour Minister, Gopal Rai, seeking a factual report from the administration of the National Law University, Delhi (NLU Delhi) on the recent termination of 55 safai karamcharis (house-keeping staff).
Students of the University have been protesting on the issue for over month now, citing violating of labour laws in the termination of the workers.
The notice issued on Friday from the office of the Delhi Labour Ministry intimates that the Ministry had received a self-explanatory representation regarding the “exploitation and wrongful removal from services of safai karamcharis”, signed by 22 safai karamcharies. In view of the same, it has been stated that,
It is added that the notice should be treated as top priority. This notice has been addressed to the Vice Chancellor of NLU Delhi,
In a press note sent to Bar & Bench earlier this week, however, the NLU Delhi Administration has denied having terminated any house-keeping staff, given that the housekeeping staff members were hired by the concerned service provider.
The University only hires services and not the housekeeping staff, the Administration has said. As stated in the press release,
" ... the University has never appointed any housekeeping staff (individually through appointment letter). No housekeeping staff was ever on the pay roll of the University. The allegations of their termination are therefore unfounded as termination is possible only when there was an appointment."
Since the staff were not directly engaged by the University, the Administration states that there was also no requirement to give the workers any notice for termination from the University's side.
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 University Administration has said that the new contractor was hired after following a due process and as per rules and norms applicable to the University. It is also stated that the the University had duly informed the previous contractor, giving one month notice about the termination of the contract.
Further, the University Administration has pointed out that alternate employment has been guaranteed for the 55 safai karamcharis in areas that are 5-7 km within Delhi by the the RMG group.
The protestors, however, assert that the offer of employment in alternate sites is not acceptable, given that the terminated workers had been working in NLU Delhi since the time of its inception. In view of these concerns, the students had 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.
However, the University Administration has asserted that it is not in a position to accede to the "inappropriate" demand for 100% retention of the old workers on campus. As stated in the press release,
"[The] Present service provider/contractor is under no legal duty to appoint housekeeping staff belonging to the previous contractor. There may be some advisory or notifications in this regard but they do not have any binding effect...
... The University cannot impose such unreasonable direction to the present/new contractor as he is supposed to offer services and not specific housekeeping staff to the University as per the contractual obligations."
The students of NLU Delhi have countered the Administration's assertion that the terminated safai karamcharis were not under the direct employment of the University, contending that the old contract under which the staff were employed was a sham. A reply shared with Bar & Bench states further that,
"The Safai Karamcharis were essentially direct employees of the University as they were providing work that is permanent in nature. The contract was merely a sham to distort the legal liabilities of the University."
In view of the same, the students have stood by their stance that the NLU Delhi administration was bound to give the workers notice in advance, prior to their termination. Further, they have reiterated that a mandatory manpower assessment exercise was not undertaken before floating the tender for engaging a new contractor. In this regard, it is also stated,
"The University in its Notice for Expression of Interest put the requirement of 71 Safai Karamcharis. However, it accepted the tender of the RMG which was only for 30 workers as opposed to 71, thus saving around 57% manpower. Therefore, the bid of RMG should have been rejected in the very first place on grounds of being exploitative since it saves beyond 20% manpower, which is prohibited."
In view of these, and other cited grounds the students have now responded that, "The Safai Karamcharis have a strong legal and moral case against the University. They have been protesting for their lawful rights for the last 41 days. Despite that, the University has been unwilling to heed to the demands of the Safai Karamcharis who have given their blood and sweat to the University for the past 12 years."
[Read the Notice from the Labour Ministry]
[Read the Press Release issued by the administration]
[Read the Reply issued by the students]
[Read the undertaking regarding alternate employment of workers by RMG]