Hundreds of midday meal workers from all over Kolkata came together to march for better wages and benefits.
IMAGE COURSE: INDIAN EXPRESS
Under the banner of the Association of Midday Meal Assistants (AMMA), over a hundred midday meal workers marched from Sealdah to SN Banerjee Road to Esplanade. These workers work from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. and get only about Rs. 10 per day. They get no extra benefits or bonuses as well.
IMAGE COURSE: TIMES OF INDIA
Workers said they don’t even receive two months’ salaries because the schools have summer vacations and Durga Puja. They work all year and get paid for only 10 months. They say that if teachers get paid during holidays, so should the workers.
Some student leaders were also part of the march.
Earlier, there were more protests in Nadia and North 24 Parganas, but they yielded no positive results.
The wages of midday meal workers have remained the same for the past 10 years. The workers work in groups of five to ten and are paid as a group by the schools. They work all day and get bare wages.
Not only do the workers get paid as little as Rs. 1,500 per day, but they also receive no other benefits. They are not even registered as employees. They have no recruitment proof, work with self-help groups, and try to put good nutrition on the plates of children.
These workers, mostly women, leave their children behind and come to work. Pregnant women get no maternity leave, and if they ask for leave, they are ordered not to rejoin.
The workers additionally demand that their salaries be deposited in their own bank accounts instead of the teacher’s or the panchayat’s. With so many middlemen, money can often be stolen, resulting in lower wages.
90% of the midday meal workers are women, mostly single or widowed.
To justify the poor pay, the government said that it was because the ‘honorary workers’ were doing voluntary social work.
The cook-cum-helpers receive a monthly wage of Rs. 1000 for 10 months to prepare, serve meals at government schools and then clean up afterwards. The rule for the midday meal scheme cited was that the people hired to work should be widows, people living below the poverty line, the vulnerable, and the marginalized.
Ironically, the government calls them honorary workers when, in fact, they are helpless.