"In March 2022, I received a mail at 6:00 pm informing me that I had been terminated from my job and that I needn't return to office the next day," said Vinit (name changed), who used to work on the implementation of the Shyama Prasad Mukherji Rurban Mission scheme in parts of Maharashtra.
Even though he was working for a government scheme, Vinit (32), who hails from a village in Palghar, was not on the payroll of the union or the Maharashtra government. He was employed by an agency called CSC e-Governance Services, which supplies manpower to the governments. He was not given any severance pay.
Vinit is among the growing number of workers in Maharashtra who are hired on contract by third-party agencies on behalf of the government.
The Eknath Shinde-led Maharashtra government published a GR (government resolution) on Tuesday, 14 March, awarding a five-year tender to nine such agencies, including CSC e-Governance Services, to supply skilled, semi-skilled, and unskilled workers to the government.
The GR comes in the middle of an indefinite strike by government employees demanding a return to the Old Pension Scheme, which was scrapped by Atal Bihar Vajpayee-led government in 2003.
The other agencies in the list are Aksentt Tech Services, CMS IT Services, Innowave IT Infrastructure, Krystal Integrated Services, S2 Infotech International, Sainik Intelligence Security and Urmila International Services.
These agencies have been authorised to supply a wide range of workers to the various departments of the government — project coordinator, engineer, teacher, content writer, clerk, librarian, telephone operator, driver, carpenter, gardener, lift operator, sweeper, and peon.
Continuation of an Old Policy
The government had awarded a similar tender to two agencies in 2014 – Brisk Facilities and Krystal Integrated Services – for a period of three years. They had received an extension after the expiry of their contract.
The process for the fresh bids began in September 2021, which was completed by April 2022. Out of 26 applications, 10 agencies were awarded the contract. However, one firm was later removed from the list after it came under the scanner of the Enforcement Directorate.
The government mentions in the GR that it wants to reduce its expenditure on governance by outsourcing as much staff as possible to outside agencies so that more money can be freed and diverted towards developmental projects.
Kapil Patil, a Member of the Maharashtra Legislative Council, told The Quint: "The government is creating two groups of employees in its own system – one that has job security, good pay and gets all the worker entitlements, and the other that works below minimum wage, has no job security and no worker benefits."
Push for Privatisation Benefits Govt, Not the Workers
The Maharashtra government states that employee salaries and pension bill put an excessive burden on its treasury. The move towards National Pension Scheme and increasing outsourcing of jobs to private agencies is supposed to help in reducing this burden.
According to Maharashtra Economic Survey 2022-23, the government, out of its total expenditure in 2021-22, spent 28.5% on salaries and 12.4% on pension. This was 4.7% less than the year 2019-20 when it spent 33.6% on salaries and 12% on pension.
Patil said that the developed countries spend 40-45% of their budget on employee salaries and pension so one needn't frown at these figures. In a welfare state, this expenditure is necessary for a government to carry out its functions smoothly, he reasoned.
Uday Bhat, labour leader and national secretary of All India Central Council of Trade Unions, told The Quint,
"Government has stopped direct recruitment. It is keeping thousands of posts vacant to reduce fiscal deficit. Majority of the class 3 and class 4 jobs are being outsourced to third-party agencies. Security personnel, housekeeping staff, clerks, etc, from gram panchayat, zilla parishad, municipality to mantralaya, are all being hired on contract."
Bhat also pointed out that class 3 and class 4 jobs far outnumber class 1 and class 2 jobs and that the contract hiring is taking place majorly in these lower end jobs.
According to Economic Survey 2022-23, Maharashtra government employed 28,000 class 1 and 44,000 class 2 workers. The number of class 3 employees, on the other hand, was 3,48,000.
The relatively smaller figure of 65,000 in class 4 can be attributed to these jobs being contracted out to private agencies. The survey mentions a separate figure of 2,36,000 employees who either work on daily wage, honorarium, are temporarily employed or do not qualify for pay grade.
The government has to follow reservation norms for the staff directly recruited by it. However, the private agencies do not have to keep aside any quotas for the Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes, Other Backward Classes and Economically Weaker Sections.
Patil, who spoke against the GR in Vidhan Parishad as well, said:
"Most of the positions in class 3 and 4 are occupied by the Bahujans. The contractualisation of work will lead to exploitation and low wages. When a particular section had a monopoly over the government jobs, there was a direct recruitment. Now, as the reservation has become more broad-based, with 50% quota to SC/ST/OBCs, the government is moving towards privatisation."
After their two-three generations in government service thanks to the reservation policy, especially class 3 and class 4 jobs, many SC/ST/OBC families managed to come out of economic deprivation and had a chance at a dignified life, Bhat explained.
"Even though they continued to face discrimination in social sphere, they were doing better financially," he stated.
He further said that contract workers cannot expect to get promotions nor do they have any job security.
Vinit was called back by his employer, CSC e-Governance Services, after a few months to work on the same scheme. However, the prospect of getting fired again hangs like the Sword of Damocles over his head. "There is absolutely no job security here," he said.
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