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Cannot differentiate between contractual workers, employees working to contain Covid-19: HC to NMMC

By K A Y Dodhiya, Mumbai
PUBLISHED ON MAY 27, 2020 09:06 PM IST

Observing that it would be “extremely unfair and unjust” to differentiate between contractual workers and regular employees of the Navi Mumbai Municipal Corporation (NMMC) undertaking Covid-19 duties, the Bombay high court (HC) has granted interim relief to over 3,000 contractual workers by directing the corporation to pay them the special daily allowance of 300 which is being paid to regular employees and officers.

A single bench of justice SJ Kathawalla, while hearing a petition filed by Samaj Samata Kaamgaar Sangh, a union representing over 6,000 contractual workers who undertake various civic duties for NMMC, was informed by advocate Bhavesh Parmar that the civic authorities were being unfair towards contractual workers.

Parmar submitted that while NMMC was paying a special daily allowance of 300 to its employees and officers who were directly involved in Covid-19 containment duty, it refused to extend the benefit to contractual workers as they were employees of the contractor and not directly employed by the corporation.

Parmar pointed out that while regular employees of the corporation were “fulfilling their responsibilities by risking their lives”, around 3,261 contractual workers/kamgaars involved in solid waste management, including day-to-day road cleaning and transportation of garbage; 693 kamgaars employed in the health department, which includes duties at four corporation hospitals and 23 urban health posts across Navi Mumbai, and 65 kamgaars employed on cemetery cleaning duty, were also risking their lives, hence refusal by the corporation to pay them the special daily allowance was discriminatory.

In light of these submissions, Parmar sought directions to NMMC to not only pay the special daily allowance but also extend the benefit of the central insurance scheme for persons who succumb to Covid-19 while discharging their duty in containing the spread of the virus.

On its part, the corporation, through advocate Sandeep Marne argued that as the kamgaars are employed by the contractors to carry out the work of the corporation, they are not entitled to claim parity and receive the said allowance which the NMMC has agreed to pay to its officers and workers.

After hearing the submissions, the court observed, “In my view, the risk taken by the employees/workers/kamgaars in carrying out Covid-19 related duties for the corporation cannot be distinguished on their employment being directly with the corporation or through the contractors. In so distinguishing between its own employees and the kamgaars, the corporation is seen to be making a tacit statement, that the kamgaars, though discharging the [same] Covid related duties as the corporation’s own employees, are either not ‘risking their lives’, or despite doing so, need to be paid differently only due to their employer being the contractor and not the corporation. To say the least, this would be an extremely unfair and unjust yardstick to use to value human lives differently.”

Thus saying, the bench passed an urgent interim order directing the NMMC to pay certified kamgaars the special daily allowance and posted the matter for further hearing on June 12.

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