‘17 Years of Dedication Overlooked’: Contractual Employees at DU Stare at Retrenchment
New Delhi: The dharna outside the Arts Faculty in the North Campus of Delhi University completed nine days on Thursday, and the faces of the protesting contractual employees exhibited the dread they felt due to the clearly looming expulsion from their jobs. The employees are enraged that their contributions of several years in building the academic institution have been forgotten.
The sit-in protest started when the National Testing Agency, a government body entrusted with the responsibility of conducting computer-based tests for jobs, declared the results of examinations for various posts, including Library Attendant, Lab Attendant, Junior Assistant, Junior Assistant (Store), Assistant, and Senior Assistant, which were advertised in February 2021. The drive is likely to affect 1,100 employees.
The protesting employees maintain that it was evident from the beginning that they would not pass the “discriminatory” test as it does not assess their skills but focuses on segments like reasoning and mathematics.
Dishi Maharshi, who travels 60 kilometres from Meerut to do her job, said that she joined the university as a library attendant in the Department of Environmental Studies in 2003. Talking to NewsClick, she said, “We joined the university after a formal interview taken by its officials. We have been continuously assessed by our Head of Departments and they have always remarked that our work has been “outstanding” and “excellent”. If we did not perform, we would have been transferred and ousted.”
“Had the university really been interested in absorbing us, it could have conducted an internal test and assessed on the basis of skill sets required to execute work in a library. You have pitted us against those candidates who are working day in and day out to pass these tests. We need to take care of the household, execute all official work and on top of that, they expect us to pass tests,” she complained.
According to Maharishi, these concerns were relayed to Vice-Chancellor Yogesh Singh, but his helplessness in extending any relief was conveyed back to them. "The university is an autonomous body, and the vice-chancellor remains the principal officer to govern its affairs. The interviews for assistant professors are being conducted in different colleges, and many ad hoc teachers have been regularized. Isn't it hypocrisy that you are exercising two standards for teaching and non-teaching employees?" she questioned.
The employees maintained that the university’s conduct throughout their employment has been anti-labour after they were deprived of rights like Employees Provident Fund benefits, gratuity, Leave Travel Concession, and children’s tuition fee.
Maharshi lamented that the families would face an unprecedented economic crisis if employees were ousted from their jobs.
Savitri, who works as a library attendant in the Central Library, said that families are dependent on them, and they will be staring at a difficult future in case of retrenchment. "The university is celebrating its centenary year; it has produced many scholars and scientists. Could it have achieved this success without our sweat? We gave our golden years here and our value has been diminished to a dime," she said.
Subhash Sharma, a lab attendant in the Chemistry Department said that he had hoped for relief but it was sheer disappointment that was handed over to the employees – with no hope for regularisation despite his 14 years of service.
“In this tenure, we nourished this university. We were appointed as lab attendants but executed all kinds of work. Even teachers ask us about methods for mixing chemicals and preparing solutions due to our experience. The university promised that much of the staff would be retained in the recruitment drive but stabbed us in our backs,” he alleged.
The protest seems to have gathered support from Karamchari associations and unions which claim that the university has “a moral and legal binding to regularise the contractual employees”.
Ajay Sain from Delhi Karamchari Federation told NewsClick that the induction of new employees must be welcomed. "However, we reiterate that the contract employees made an immense contribution to building up the institution. The university has witnessed a lack of employees for many years. The University Grants Commission made arrangements for increasing the strength of the teaching faculty after OBC reservations, but there was no relief for the non-teaching staff," he said.
He added, "The burden of work has only increased with the swollen number of students. So, the university can do two things to absorb the contract employees. One, it must stop the re-employment of senior employees. There is a practice of re-employing retired employees. On the one hand, they are drawing a pension and earning a salary too. If this practice stops, more job opportunities can be created. Second, there can be adjustments in departments to absorb these employees. These employees were recruited on a contract basis because they met the minimum qualifications for jobs against sanctioned strength."
Devendra Sharma, president, Delhi University and College Karamchari Union (DUCKU), told NewsClick that there are precedents where governments have come forward to resolve such crises.
He said, "The Odisha government regularised 57,000 contract employees. A similar thing happened in Himachal Pradesh and Punjab. The university could have conducted an open test for employees. NTA does not know about the skill sets required for a job. It will only conduct a test on the computer. We received multiple complaints that cheating was allowed to happen in several centres. However, the important point that must be remembered is that the Supreme Court has decided in favour of contract employees working for more than 10 years in the 'Secretary, State of Karnataka versus Uma Devi and others' verdict. Why are they not willing to implement it?"
NewsClick made multiple attempts to seek comments from Delhi University Registrar Vikas Gupta, but he remained unavailable.
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