Appeals for Workers’ Funds Make Rounds as WWC Proves Inadequate
By Edict Newsdesk Staff
The Milaap fundraiser for workers being run by the Employee Welfare Committee (EWC) of the Student Government (SG) and Democracy Collective (DemCol), commonly known as the SG-DemCol fundraiser, has been facing a shortage of funds for workers since 5th December 2021. The latest appeal for the fundraiser was on 16th May 2022 and several messages for individual emergency fundraisers began circulating on 4th May 2022.
According to The Edict’s conversations with 10-12 workers across departments and genders, the latest of which was on 28th April 2022, several workers have not been given financial assistance from the official Ashoka University fund managed by the Workers’ Welfare Committee (WWC) despite requests. While some requests have not received any response at all, there are others in which a small fraction of the amount requested was given. These requests range from assistance for medical bills, personal expenditures, money to support workers’ families and children, etc.
A majority of the workers The Edict spoke to did not know of the existence either of the WWC or of the workers’ funds. The reason they gave was that they were new to the university. One worker claimed that 70-80% of their department comprised of newly hired workers. Between December and January including over the Winter Break, there have been several coerced resignations by workers as per Mr. Vivek Panwar’s email that was forwarded to students on 1st February 2021. The Edict heard more mentions of forced resignations in their conversations, on which the reporting is limited.
On 2nd January 2022, the SG-DemCol wrote an email explaining the hostile workplace, overflow of emergency aid requests, and lack of job security. All these issues appear to have continued between then and the time of these conversations.
Oorja Engineer and Sara Muthedath, both from the Undergraduate Batch of 2023, have been the two student representatives of the WWC since January 2022. Before this, Jahnavi Rudra was the student representative working with the WWC for over two years before resigning in November 2021.
Oorja told The Edict on 18th April 2022 that the WWC is not planning on taking action against the forced resignations of workers as such matters do not fall under their purview. According to her, “the WWC considers itself as [sic] a ‘charitable’ organization that exists simply to provide funds to workers for health-and-education purposes while improving the quality of their lives through awareness and skilling programmes. This doesn’t involve confronting the contractors or the administration about things like forced resignations, or bad working conditions”.
Student and worker protests demanded a Grievance Redressal Committee (GRC) due to workers' forced transfers and resignations in September 2021. In response to this, the Pro-Vice Chancellor (Pro-VC) promised that a GRC for workers’ issues was in the works in a meeting held on 29th November 2021. This meeting was attended by the DemCol, SG, and members of the admin including the WWC. There has been no official action or update regarding this.
Oorja told The Edict that the WWC was not planning to take any action regarding this. She said, “the GRC is a responsibility of the Pro-VC. The WWC hasn’t taken any steps towards ensuring that the GRC is made, and neither have they looked for ways to bring about direct hiring”.
The Edict posed several other questions to the admin and faculty members of the WWC to which no response or acknowledgements were given despite written and verbal reminders. The questions posed can be seen here.
As per The Edict’s interview on 15th January 2022 with Shreya Jain and Neha Sheik from the Interim 7th House of Representatives, who then comprised the EWC, the processes and distribution methods of the WWC and SG-DemCol funds are different. Shreya is no longer part of the SG since her resignation on 10th April 2022. While there is currently no official EWC member, Neha continues to be the informal point of contact.
Regarding the SG-DemCol fundraiser, Neha says, “this is an initiative independent of the administration. The admin has never said no to anything and we’ve always had the liberty to send out these fundraisers. Usually, the WWC has a fund for fundraiser emergencies. They have their own funds that workers approach and they have helped workers but the issue is, it’s a slightly a long-drawn process; sometimes, requests are denied which is why we have set up this SG-DemCol fundraiser which tends to help a lot of the workers who say, need like it urgently, tonight or something like that, so this is the quicker method in that sense. But the admin has not been against anything.”
Shreya adds, “one of the reasons that this fund works would be that we don’t really put the collateral of documents on the workers. The WWC will ask you for medical documents and you need to prove that you are in really dire need of money. And still, I’ve seen workers who are in need of [INR] 20,000 and the WWC will give them a minimal amount of 6. But if the SG is having, say, [INR] 50,000 and you are the first-come-first-serve in-line, we will give you the entire amount. I think this is one of the reasons why the SG fund, if we have money, works, because we don’t really put the burden of documents on the workers. It just doesn’t work like that.”
Regarding the SG-DemCol fundraising procedure, Shreya explains, “as far as I’ve done it, we get tips from a lot of students because students are unorganized and talk to a lot of workers. So they get like, xyz Didi needs 5000 rupees and I get 5-6 messages from 5-6 students. Then, 5-6 requests collate in like one day and that’s like flatlining.” She says that it becomes tricky to then process these requests together. Money for this fund is directly contributed by students, faculty, alumni, and other members of the Ashokan body.
Regarding sustainability, Neha says, “a lot of the rotations have been decreasing because how much can you burden one organization to keep contributing, right? I think that has spread to student fundraisers as well so we are trying, all we can do is keep sending reminders again and again to show that the situations are very pressing.” Shreya and Neha also address the financial burden of the pandemic on students.
The DemCol also worked in the Dorm Olympics and Spring Haat in the Spring 2022 Semester to fundraise for workers.
Oorja told The Edict on 16th May 2022 that fundraising by the Vice-Chancellor and asking donors to contribute to the fund is how the WWC forms a major portion of their funds as per her understanding.
According to Jahnavi Rudra’s resignation email on 21st November 2021, “the worker’s welfare fund has been one of the primary functions of the committee”.
Regarding the application process, the email explains that “in theory, the application process made sense and most of the house members at the time agreed with it after suggesting some necessary changes. However, I feel that the process, while it is well organized and executed, it often creates unnecessary bureaucratic hurdles which can cause serious harm to workers”.
The email states that the application process is not transparent. It continues to say, “many workers have not been informed about the scope of the fund, other places they can approach for financial help (many workers have not been able to avail their Employees' State Insurance or ESI for example), and the method of fund allocation. Workers who apply may not hear back from the committee for months”.
Regarding the ease in making transfers, Jahnavi also refers to the “coerced resignation crisis in 2020” wherein “a committee was created by the VC comprising of faculty members and administrators to investigate the incident. The committee found the incidents that took place disturbing but found that since there are no regulations to dictate Ashoka’s relationship with the different contractors, they had technically not broken any rules because those rules do not exist. They recommended that a standardized operating procedure be created and the VC agreed that it must be done in consultation with workers. This was in monsoon 2020. No SOP has been made, and it’s because those who would be made to create the SOP are not the primary stakeholders, i.e the workers”.
In the 6 months since this email, prospects have not appeared to change.