Twenty-year-old Suresh Ramappa’s (name changed) is one among the 80-odd conservancy workers, who slog daily from 10pm to 6am, sweeping the roads in the city’s A ward. This ward boasts of posh localities like Colaba, Fort and Cuffe Parade, among others.
Working with an organisation, which was awarded the contract for sweeping and maintaining certain parts of ward A, Ramappa has been at it for about two years now.
“In 2009, our minimum wage was around Rs150. Now, it has gone up to Rs247, but this hike exists only on paper. We have only got Rs120 since 2009, no matter what the minimum wage is,” says Ramappa.
A conservancy worker makes around Rs3,600 per month and making ends meet with this measly sum is a Herculean task. Surviving on frugal meals, Ramappa is the only earning member in his family of four. “My mother earlier used to work as a housemaid and help me financially in running the house. Now that she is old and ailing, I have to do it all alone.”
The conservancy workers in ward A aren’t even paid the constitutionally guaranteed minimum wages and Ramappa is aware of it. Still he would rather not vent out his anger. He knows the consequences of doing so could be grave: he might end up losing his livelihood. He substantiates his fear with an example. Pointing to a boy, he said, “This boy dared to ask the contractor to give him his minimum wage. The contractor refused, and fired him instead.”
He is living on hope that the civic body will soon intervene and make things better for him and many others like him. An emboldened Ramappa, along with a few others, approached senior civic officials for help. “The contractor says he will try and increase my wages. I’m willing to wait and watch if he really does that, or else I’ll take the battle ahead.”