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A fact finding report on the exploitation of workers at Indian Institute of Technology Kanpur

by IIT Kanpur Citizens’ Forum, 15 December 2010

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The practice of employing contract workers by IIT Kanpur started increasing at the expense of direct regular employees during the past two decades and presently the figure of the contingent workforce is estimated to be around 2,500. For its normal functioning, the Institute relies upon these contract workers not only for temporary construction works but also for perennial works such as messing (food preparation, serving and cleaning of kitchen and dishes), civil maintenance, electrical maintenance, horticulture, sanitation and sewer cleaning. The Ministry of Labor and Employment, Government of India, views that inferior labor status, casual nature of employment, lack of job security and poor economic conditions are the major characteristics of contract labor.[1] These most vulnerable workers have been provided unequivocal legal protection by different laws, mainly, Contract Labor (Regulation and Abolition) Act, 1970 [CL(R & A) Act, 1970], Minimum Wages Act, 1948 [MW Act, 1948], The Payment of Wages Act, 1936 [PW Act, 1936], Workmen Compensation Act & Apprentices Act 1961, and Inter-state Migrant Workmen Act, 1979 [ISMW Act, 1979].

These laws maintain that although contract workers are indirect employees, who are hired, supervised and remunerated by a contractor, it is the
primary responsibility of the ‘principal employer’, i.e. IIT Kanpur, which retains and pays for the work performed by the same workers, to legally ensure the timely payment of minimum (living) wages, contribute to

ESI/EPF and Workers’ Cess schemes, provide safe working conditions and
safeguard the provision of amenities such as canteens, crèches, rest-rooms, latrines, urinals, washing facilities and first-aid facilities to the contract laborers.

The community of IIT Kanpur – students, faculty, staff and their family
members – has observed numerous cases where the Institute has failed in
its responsibility to protect the labor rights of the contract workers. The incidents of not paying the legally mandated minimum wages, arbitrary
hiring and firing by the contractors, malpractices in the constitutionally guaranteed social security schemes such as ESI/EPF, bullying, threats and
harassments of these workers have been rampant; in fact an established
practice. The negligence in realizing the health and safety conditions have given rise to numerous injuries resulting in deaths in some cases. The IITK community, together with the workers, has been raising these issues and
seeking redress from the administration and contractors for a long time. In recent times alumni and other citizens have also become a part of this
struggle. A signature campaign launched by a group of alumni has been
supported by more than 1200 alumni.

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