Saturday, July 7, 2007

JNU students expelled for protesting worker exploitation - The Facts


In November it came to light that some 15 construction labourers on the campus were laid off work because they had demanded Rs. 70 as opposed to the Rs. 65 per day that they had been getting. Shocked by the fact that this wage was far less than the minimum wage (then Rs. 127 in Delhi), the Students’ Union and several other students had taken up a campaign to ensure minimum wages. Despite the fact that JNU’s own rules and regulations state that JNU authorities are responsible for ensuring payment of minimum wage to workers – including workers employed on construction sites – as well as for ensuring maintenance of muster rolls, display of wage rates on display boards at work sites, JNU authorities consistently shrugged off their responsibility as principal employers. In November and December, students took the initiative of running a community kitchen for laid off workers on campus – an initiative in which the teaching community too took a lot of interest.

Subsequently, several times, students themselves had to ensure payment of minimum wages through their physical presence and intervention. For months, students kept up the sustained and systematic campaign – unearthing documents that showed that not only construction labourers sub-contracted by CPWD, but even mess workers employed directly by JNU were being employed on contracts that stated far less than minimum wages. On February 19, when students’ posters on the subject of minimum wages were torn off from the Administrative Block at the direction of the Registrar, students began to protest, demanding a meeting to discuss the issue of enforcing minimum wage laws on the campus. After several hours an impasse developed; students surrounded the Registrar’s car demanding that he come out and talk; and the Registrar refused to leave his car. This impasse continued for some four hours after which the students eventually broke it and began a hunger strike.

The JNU Students Union Council subsequently adopted a resolution expressing regret for the gherao of the Registrar and reiterating the students’ concern for workers’ rights on campus. Subsequently 9 students including JNUSU office bearers, as well as all Karamchari Association Office Bearers, were suspended. Following a long agitation, suspensions were eventually withdrawn, with each of the suspended students submitting letters endorsing the JNUSU’s resolution of regret. This resolution was also upheld by the University General Body Meeting (UGBM) of the students. In light of the fact that the JNUSU had accepted collective responsibility and expressed regret, the UGBM had categorically demanded that the Proctorial Enquiry initiated into the incident be stopped, as continuing it would amount to a witch-hunt of individuals who had participated in a protest led by the elected JNUSU. Following this UGBM mandate, students did not participate in the Proctorial Enquiry.

On 30 May, in the middle of the summer vacations, the Proctor’s Office issued show-cause notices to 11 students (9 of whom were previously suspended, including two more students). These include the JNUSU Preswident, General Secretary and Joint Secretary. These show cause notices inform that the Proctorial Enquiry into the gherao of the Registrar is complete, and various charges stand proved against them, and asks them to respond by June 15 why action not be taken against them. Recently, 7 students have been rusticated and placed out of bounds; one student who was a terminal (MA) student has been placed out of bounds, and three JNUSU office bearers fined Rs. 2000 each.

This renewed action against students, in a matter which the JNUSU had sought to resolve through dialogue, reeks of retribution. The attempt seems to be to penalise and silence students who have been raising the issue of workers’ minimum wages.

Even on Feb. 19 the sole concern of the students was the extremely genuine issue of prolonged violation of workers’ minimum wages and rights on campus. This issue remains a burning issue even today: construction workers are still paid far, far below the minimum wage (the prevailing wage rate is Rs. 80 while the revised minimum wage is Rs. 158); there are neither muster rolls nor mandatory display boards at the worksites; workers even now fear to make complaints for fear they will lose employment, as has been the case in the past. In the wake of the students’ movement on this issue, the Administration has recently issued circulars stating minimum wages for mess workers, but there is still no administrative mechanism in place to monitor, enforce or guarantee it. Also there is no proof whether the statutory PF, ESI deductions from each labourer’s minimum wage is being deposited in individual workers’ accounts.

Most disturbingly, there is ample evidence on record of JNU Administration’s representatives having signed on contracts in the past where the wages cited are below the minimum wage (scanned copies attached). There is no attempt to retrospectively correct or compensate workers for these violations that have taken place even in the recent past, and no attempt to fix responsibility for these deliberate and illegal violations.

We are requesting citizens and academics to appeal to the JNU Administration to appreciate and nurture the social concerns of students rather than pursue an arbitrary course of action.

Attached are scanned copies of three of the documents obtained through RTI – and below is an explanatory note that makes it clear how these contracts violated minimum wage laws.

Documents 1 and 2

JNU Administration entering into contract with private agencies for Mess workers, Safai Karmchari etc. in JNU hostels blatantly violating the minimum wage laws. While the actual payment is still below this contracted upon illegal level of wages!

Unskilled Skilled

According To Minimum Wage Law Rs.3949.4 Rs.4445.4

JNU’s agreement with private agencies Rs.2900 Rs.4000

Actual payment in practice Rs.2100 Rs.3100

Document 3

The agreement signed by the Registrar for safai karmacharis state that JNU will pay Rs. 65,420 as total amount to the agency that will employ 20 staff for 31 days along with several other necessities.

If we calculate just the wage-bill for all 20 workers even at the lowest rate (assuming all to be unskilled, which of course is not correct as the staff includes supervisor as well) of Rs. 3949.4 ( @127.40 per day) it comes to Rs.78,988 . But the entire contract which is not just the wage-bill is for Rs.65,420, which is far below the wage-bill at min. wage rate. Clearly, the actual payment of the workers had been far, far less. It is really ironic that to fool any cursory observer, the same document ritualistically mentions compliance to min wage laws!

Note: Minimum wage has been raised by Delhi Government since Feb.07. For unskilled workers in Delhi it now stands at Rs. 157.70. But in JNU, both for construction workers and safai karmcharis the payment still stands at Rs. 80 approximately.

Click here to read original contract with workers (page 1) [PDF, 1 MB] »

Click here to read original contract with workers (page 2) [PDF. 1 MB] »

JNU students begin hunger strike against disciplinary action

Indian Express, June 25, 2007

In Protest against disciplinary action taken against 11 students for allegedly misbehaving with the registrar in February, JNU Students’ Union has launched a relay huger strike demanding revocation of the punitive measure.

The protest was launched on Saturday night with ten JNUSU members, including its president Dhananjay Tripathi and secretary Sandeep Singh.

The strike comes in the wake of the varsity rusticating seven students for separate terms and imposing a fine of Rs 2,000 on three leaders for allegedly gheraoing the registrar Avais Ahmed on February 19 during a protest demanding minimum wages for daily workers.

“We would continue our strike till our demands are met,” said Dhananjay, who has been fined. The others fined include general secretary Sandeep Singh, and joint secretary Jyotsna Singh. They were all held responsible for locking registrar Ahmed in his car for hours on February 19.

Though Left-affiliated organisations like the SFI, AISF, AISA, and DSU have joined the strike, the others, including the Youth for Equality, ABVP and Congress-affiliated NSUI decided to stay off.

While the ABVP and the Youth for Equality hailed the disciplinary actions, the NSUI favoured fine instead of rustication for erring students. “These students deserve severe punitive actions not sympathy for their misconduct,” said ABVP joint secretary Amit Singh.

On the other hand, unit president of the NSUI, Shabbir Alam, said rustication would ruin their careers.

Sources say the students were demanding minimum wages for the daily workers at JNU on February 19 before the registrar Ahmed.

The protests turned ugly when Ahmed said he would look into demands later.

This provoked a section of students who confined Ahmed to his car for several hours.

Till late night Sunday, the JNU administration was not available for comments.

Both professor Ram Adhikari Kumar, Rector II, and Prof R K Kale, dean of students, refused to comment.