On the Picket Line

Indian sanitation workers strike for equal pay, permanent jobs

By Roy Landersen
September 27, 2021

Over 400 sanitation workers staged a sit-in outside the Patna Municipal Corporation’s headquarters in Patna, India, Sept. 12, part of a strike by sanitation and some maintenance workers that began Sept. 6. The strike is the latest in a series of work stoppages over the past year.

Last August, 4,700 day laborers and 2,300 contract workers went on strike. At that time workers on a day contract got $122 a month and contract workers $95, while a permanent worker got $408, plus benefits.

The strikers’ 12-point charter of demands includes “equal pay for equal work” as they fight to close that huge gap. They’re also fighting for pensions and the right to take leaves for personal emergencies, as well as for temporary jobs to be made permanent.

Media reports say the streets in Patna, a city of over 2 million and the capital of Bihar state in northeast India, reek from 6,000 tons of garbage, as talks between local officials and union representatives have broken down. Efforts by the bosses to use strikebreakers haven’t had much impact on either the piles nor the stench.

Pintu Kumar, a sanitation worker, told the Sept. 13 Times of India, “We do not like to make people’s lives miserable by protesting like this. However, we must raise our voice for our rights.”

Chandra Prakash Singh, president of the Patna Municipal Corporation Staff Union, told the same paper the bosses had said they would settle the issues, but “we need written assurances.”