700 Sanitation Workers have been laid off in Chennai on 10th January, after which dharnas were organised in the past few weeks by many who have been terminated. On 11th January a roadblock or ‘mariyal’ was held in Aminjikarai. On the 13th and 14th, a dharna was held outside Rippon Building i.e. Greater Chennai Corporation Head Office. Most recently around 450 workers organised a dharna under the leadership of Red Flag Union coming under CITU, in Chepauk State Guest House, on 21 January.
The large-scale termination of workers, is part of the state’s larger push to privatise garbage collection in Chennai. For example, contracts in zones 9, 10 and 13 were under the Ramky Company from 2010-2013. After this a many other zones were to be brought under private company contracts. Currently zones 1,2,3,7 come under Ramky. Urbaser-Sumeet, a Spanish company, has been given zones 9-15 which comprise areas such as Teynampet, Kodambakkam, Valasaravakkam, Alandur, Adyar, Perungudi and Shollinganallur.
On the 7th of January, the Commissioner put forward a notice stating that the workers who were working under zones 9-15 (coming under Urbaser-Sumeet company) were to be shifted to zones under the corporation, and added that an equivalent number of workers who were working in these zones, would thus be terminated to make way. Permanent workers previously working under the corporation, did not receive any PF/ESI benefits either.
In an interview provided by Thozhilalar Koodam, many of the sanitation workers who were laid off mentioned that they had been working there for 10 to 13 years, and were promised by the corporation that their jobs would be protected. However, on showing up to work on January 11th, they were abruptly told that they were to no longer work there. What followed was complete chaos, with the many who have been working there for more than 10 years, now without work. Many mentioned how there has been a complete lack of government protection for sanitation workers, and have highlighted how this negligence has taken place during the pandemic. Masks were hardly supplied. They had to wear the same gloves for long periods of time. Contract workers who were diagnosed with COVID, had their salaries cut as they had to take leave. Many workers attending these protests even mentioned that they have been showing up to work despite being denied salaries and day-offs.