A protest by the sanitation workers of the Kozhikode Medical College has entered the 100th day today. They have been engaged in cleaning the wards, halls, and toilets in the hospital premises for years, and they actively worked at the hospital during the Covid-19 lockdown despite the social stigma they had faced from neighbours and others.
When the Covid-19 situation worsened, the authorities had asked them to go home and stay in quarantine since they were also working in the Covid wards. However, upon returning to work they learnt that the authorities had replaced them with other workers, citing technicalities. The workers had moved from offices to offices looking for a way to get their work back. Addressing the media, they had said that they are pleading with the authorities to give them permanent work, as it is difficult for them to survive this economy without a job.
However, in a typical bureaucratic fashion, the officials claim that they can’t regularise these employees since they are temporary recruits. However, many of these terminated staff has been employed at the institution for almost two decades, one more than necessary for regularisation. This is the interesting part.
DYFI Kerala President AA Rahim addressed allegations against the CPM-led government and said that the state regularising temporary workers in various public organisations should be considered as humane. He added that the state is doing so for those who have completed ten years in service and are unable to go for any other job. This reasoning has echoed through the LDF, adding that they have also done that for those who were posted during the UDF tenure.
The most controversial regularisation is occurring in C-DIT where around 114 employees with 10 years of experience will be made regular. However, members of Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan’s social media team will also be getting the same benefit without having completed 10 years of service. This would be the second attempt since trade unions within C-DIT had opposed to the move, and reportedly, the cabinet will be relying on a Special Rules amendment to regularise the employees. Moreover, 180 employees from Kerala Health Research and Welfare Society, 60 from KEPCO, 7 from Kerala Livestock Development Board, and many more from other departments are in the list to be regularised.
Why is this regularisation a problem? As Rahim said, isn’t it humane? Well, it would be, if the standards were applied to everyone. In the landmark Umadevi judgement, the Supreme Court noted two things. Firstly, the government must ensure a specific objective criterion if they need to regularise employees, and the objective criteria cannot exclude people as long as someone qualifies it. Secondly, governments shouldn’t employ people on a contract basis for specific periods to create a circumstance artificially requiring regularisation, since it would almost always be contradicting the Constitutional provisions guaranteed to the people.
Since it is already under consideration and the LDF members had described it "humane action", we must look into the first part. Since the sanitisation workers have completed ten and more years of service at the institution, it is only natural that they are regularised alongside the other employees in the list. However, that’s not the case, and the authorities at the hospital are refusing to take them in claiming that they were only temporary workers. On the other hand, the state government is using the excuse to regularise employees in a very selective humane action.