Kerala Salary Debate: Is a Sweeper earning as much as an Assistant Professor?

While Thiruvananthapuram MP Shashi Tharoor shared details on the salary debate, The NationWide takes a good look at the nuances of the debate, which is even direr than just a comparison
Kerala Salary Debate: Is a Sweeper earning as much as an Assistant Professor?

A few days into the New Year, Thiruvananthapuram MP Shashi Tharoor opened up a new can of worms against the ruling LDF government and he has started a very complicated and controversial debate. He shared a screenshot of an official document highlighting the difference (or lack thereof) of Basic Pay between an Assistant Professor and a sweeper in Kerala. Tharoor said, “A college professor in Kerala sent me this evidence of the financial worth of her educational qualifications. While we all applaud that sweepers are paid well, studying long and hard for the higher degrees required by an Assistant Professor earns her a lower salary!”

However, others have come forward to argue that such a comparison is wrong, that he had shared the sixth pay commission brackets, and that the seventh pay commission has a different scale. However, Tharoor said, “It is striking that this is mainly because Kerala’s Left Govt does not give teachers UGC rates. It is reputedly the only state government that has not honoured the Centre’s recommendation to grant UGC rates of pay.”

When we at The Nationwide tried to get to the bottom of it, we realised that it was not a straightforward matter and it needs further introspection. So let us try to break the argument into three parts.

The Sweeper-Assistant Professor pay scales

As shown above, the sheet looks at the Basic Pay of the two jobs, and while it is tempting to make a direct comparison here, it is not an easy argument to make. The Assistant Professors pay scale starts from Rs 15,600-39,100 and, the Sweeper scale starts from Rs 16,500-35,700. However, it is important to note the fact that the salary categories are different. The state government provides the Sweeper’s salary while the University Grants Commission provides the Assistant Professor’s salary.

Another aspect stated above is the fact that the amount shown is the Basic Pay. It means that the benefits are yet to be added. In his claim, Tharoor said that there was no difference in the pay scale. He is right, but that same premise cannot be used to claim that no value has been given to academic achievements.

Here is a sample breakdown: Apart from the initial 15,600, the Assistant Professor also receives what is known as an Academic Grade Pay (AGP), which amounts to Rs 6,000 as a starting rate. Combined, the Basic Pay of an entrant Assistant Professor comes up to Rs 21,600 (Pay scale position + AGP). Moreover, according to the UGC scale, the Dearness Allowance for Assistant Professors is 148% of the Basic Pay, amounting 31,968 and, the Basic Pay + DA comes up to Rs 53,568. Different places and universities might offer different facilities, but this amount does not include the medical, insurance, and housing allowances that they receive.

Similarly, the Sweeper’s salary (with a starting Basic Pay of Rs 16,500) only amounts to Rs 19,800 since the DA is 3,300 at 20% the Basic Pay. They don’t receive the same amount of benefits that Assistant Professors enjoy. Moreover, their career growth is very limited as opposed to the learnt academics. After the calculations, the actual comparison should have been between an Academic’s Rs 53,568 and a Sweeper’s Rs 19,800. We understand that the Basic Pay comparison is an easy target, but it must be dealt with the same nuances that it provides.

The reply to a Right to Information query has pointed out the amount spent by the Kerala government for salaries, including assistant professor and sweeper, giving the comparison the nuance it needs.

The UGC Scale of Pay

With evidence, pointing to the fact that a Sweeper is not paid as much as a starting Assistant Professor, and that the state government uses UGC scales, might seem to be acquitting the LDF government. However, that isn’t as straight forward as well. The state government follows the salary package as envisaged in the sixth pay commission, while the rest of the country follows the seventh. The latter was announced in 2016, but, as of January 2021, Kerala has not yet followed the increments, even though the UGC has provided the arrears to the government.

An Assistant Professor with a prominent college in Kerala, under the condition of anonymity, said that the state government has not even implemented the salary difference. “We are not very hopeful of receiving the arrears, even though they claim to deposit it in our Provident Fund accounts. We wouldn’t mind receiving the latest salary changes,” the Academic said. The CPM-led state government currently follows the sixth pay commission that came about in 2006, but the VS Achuthanandan-led LDF government implemented it in the state in 2010. The rest of the nation, except God’s Own Country, implemented the seventh pay commission within a year and a half of its conception in 2016. Five years have passed, the Central government has been mulling the abandonment of the pay commission system and Kerala is yet to allegedly pay the arrears.

The Assistant Professor also added that it had been a difficult year especially due to the Covid-pandemic. Many alleged that it was an easy time for academics, as they didn’t have to do any work. However, the Assistant Professor said that wasn’t the case. “We had twice our usual work. Preparing notes, classes, assignments, exams, and making sure we stay on schedule. It wasn’t an easy year,” the Academic added.

It is sad to note that overworked Academicians have lost hope of ever receiving their arrears. They hope that the state government will at least give them salary based on the latest pay scales and not a 15-year-old scale. The problem shouldn’t be based on a comparison. One shouldn’t resort to a baseless and misleading claim to argue for the rights of our teachers. Their problems stand on their own.

The Private Problem

While our government Academicians face a salary situation, their private counterparts deal with even more severe problems. The private educational facilities are often being accused of being greedy, lacking in quality, and very abusive of their teachers. While this is not everyone, this does relate to a lot of institutions.

Recently, the Kerala government is mulling the passing of a bill aimed at standardising the salary and benefits of teachers at private colleges, helping to bring them to the mainstream. This is a welcome move, as the situation is often dire for the teaching-staff. From bare minimum salaries, lack of proper facilities to overwork and zero job security, the situation has been often severe for private educators. Many of whom we contacted believe that the proposed bill, while useful on paper, does not seem a possibility.

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