Strike by BBMP transport/Collection Workers in Karnataka

The workers involved in collection and transportation of garbage went on a five-day strike, between March 20th and March 24th, 2023, in various districts across Karnataka. These workers, are employed as garbage vehicle drivers and loaders in over 330 urban local bodies across the state, were demanding that the State Government implement the written assurance made by the Chief Minister to abolish the exploitative and illegal contract system, and that the workers be brought under the direct payment system of the local authorities. The strike was led by AICCTU-affiliated unions - BBMP Powrakarmikara Sangha, Karnataka Pragatipara Powrakarmikara Sangha, Karnataka Pragatipara Tyajya Sagisuva Vahana Chalakara Haagu Sahayakara Sangha, and was jointly organised with other unions.

These workers are employed in dangerous and hazardous working conditions, where they are forced to collect and transport garbage without any safety equipment provided to them. The contract labour system is nothing, but bonded labour, and is used to deny workers, who are primarily from the Dalit community, their most basic rights. Under this system, the workers are not paid wages for months together, denied minimum wages, social benefits, weekly holidays and any leave, etc. These workers are have been forced to work under the so-called contract system for several decades, where they do not have any job security and are constantly threatened with termination.

In July 2022, several thousand safai karamcharis went on a four-day strike seeking permanent jobs, during which time, the Chief Minister of Karnataka had made a written assurance to the workers that they will be made permanent and that the workers involved in collection and transportation of garbage will be brought under the direct payment system. However, those workers in Bengaluru, would continue to be under the contract system. A committee was formed to look into the implementation of these assurances of the government, where AICCTU is also a member of the committee. “In the committee, we raised concerns in regard to the workers employed through illegal contract system in Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP), after which, the State Government sought for a proposal from the BBMP to bring these workers under the direct payment system. However, the BBMP Commissioner has not responded to these letters and has not sent any proposal to put an end to the contract system,” said Nirmala, President of BBMP Powrakarmikara Sangha. 

While the official figures put the number of workers involved in collection and transportation of garbage at about 12,000 in Bengaluru, there are only about 8,000 workers actually employed by the sham contractors. A monthly expenditure of Rs. 50 crores of public money is spent on solid waste management, where the workers are completely denied minimum wages, social security benefits like ESI and EPF, safety equipment, etc. Nirmala said, “There is large scale and rampant corruption prevalent in the garbage management system, which prevents the workers from getting their dues and hence the only way is to fight till the illegal contract system is abolished.” 

“Despite the Chief Minister having made this announcement over 8 months ago, workers continue to be forced to work under highly exploitative conditions. On one hand large amounts of money is given to these contractors, on the other hand, the rights of the workers are trampled upon,” said Keeshu Naik, Secretary of Karnataka Pragatipara Tyajya Sagisuva Vahana Chalakara Haagu Sahayakara Sangha. The contract labour system is used primarily against the workers, who all belong to historically oppressed sections of society, and it was in this context that the workers undertook at five-day strike across Karnataka, including in Bengaluru, Vijayanagara, Koppal, Ballari, Raichur, Hubli-Dharwad, Gadag, etc., seeking an end to the contract system and that all workers have to be ensured fair and dignified working conditions.