Saadia Peerzada, UG 22
As India went into lockdown, the Ashoka University campus started functioning at a fraction of its capacity. Proportionally, only a part of the housekeeping staff was kept on campus while the rest were dismissed till further notice. Recently, it was brought to the attention of the students that housekeeping staff members who are not working on campus at the moment are being forced to sign resignation slips. They have not been paid their salaries since March, when the lockdown ensued.
An ELM project called VittaVaran, designed by students of YIF 2020, had some YIFs working closely with the housekeeping staff. These students revealed that in May, workers were given cash for total paid leaves that are allotted to them for the entire year and not their salary. Since then, they have not received any form of remuneration from the third-party contractor. They’ve also shared one incidence of coerced resignation with the student body via email:
“As told by a Didi, she went with 3 other ladies after the call. They were asked to come with PAN Card/Aadhar Card so that some money can be given to them. Thinking it’s their salary, they went. It was a very isolated place some 10 kms away from main Sonipat city. They were called one by one with 4 men in a room. They were told to sign on papers. None of them knew how to read/write. They put their thumbprint and were given cheques. Then (at the end), they were told it was a resignation letter. This Didi is a single mother with 3 kids.”
While the university has reduced housekeeping staff during summer semesters in the past, coerced resignation came as a shock. More than 30% of housekeeping staff has already signed and lost jobs. The admin has maintained that the workers who aren’t employed on campus during summer semester are deployed elsewhere by the vendors during this time. However, the insecurity and pressure of finding work elsewhere was apparent in the numerous testimonies of distressed workers.
As students came to know about the situation, they demanded for this process to be put on hold while the Democracy Collective and the Student Government communicated with the admin. The student government held a meeting with the VC and subsequently informed the student body that the VC has stated the initial aim was to inform the staff members that they can resign and get one month’s salary in advance, along with bonuses, PF and gratuity funds if they are in urgent need of money. The process was supposed to be voluntary and the administration members were only supposed to inform the workers of this option being available to them. However, testimonies from workers have revealed that this played out differently. Admin members took to coercion. They went to the workers’ houses to get the letters signed without informing them about the contents of the letter and used what was owed to the workers as blackmail, telling them that they’d lose the rights to their PF and gratuity funds if they didn’t resign.
The VC has stated that she wasn’t aware of these means of resignation being forced on the workers. The SG has called out “the discrepancy between the instructions of the university leadership and the actions of members of middle and senior management on campus.” SG has demanded accountability and action to be taken against those responsible. They have also suggested direct employment of workers to avoid the miscommunication that arises out of workers being hired by third party contractors. The principal aim among the demands is that “all contractual workers who were working at Ashoka in the Monsoon 2019 and Spring 2020 semesters, whether or not they have signed resignation slips, receive a written statement guaranteeing that they will be given their jobs at Ashoka once campus reopens.”
Members of VittaVaran highlighted the dire need of action right now in their email, “We want to make everybody aware of (the fact that the) staff is scared, vulnerable and above all, angry. We do not know how much this can escalate if right intervention is not done. Just imagine (if) our batchmates did a tremendous job in raising funds and extended the right help. However, now our dear Didis and Bhaiyas are the most hit. People who make Ashoka liveable and workable. I request we stand up and do something tangible.”
You can help the workers who have lost their jobs through these forced methods during this time of financial crisis by donating to this fundraiser:
This will ensure that they have some semblance of security and support amongst so much uncertainty. In times like these, student-worker solidarity is uncompromisable. Above all, students working closely with the workers and raising their concerns with the admin stress on the importance of keeping this discussion going and the student body being active in listening to workers, standing with them and ensuring that Ashoka is a respectable working place for those who make it habitable.