The ongoing strike of several lifeguards that belongs to the private organization called Drishti Lifestyle Services has entered into the seventh day and in the absence of the lifeguards on the beaches of Goa in this high season time creating the safety issues to the tourist coming down to the state. We spoke with the leader of AITUC Suhas Naik.
The call for the strike was announced by the lifeguards of Drishti organization towards the end of December which is supposed to be the most crucial month for the tourist season in Goa. The prima facie issue is obviously the pay scale and expulsion of 17 employees which is not accepted by the strikers and the dispute seems to be ended up into the non-cooperation. Goa Prism met Suhas Naik, the leader of All India Trade Union Congress (AITUC) that is spearheading the agitation. Here are the excerpts from the on-field interview with Comrade Suhas.
Goa Prism: What is this strike is all about?
Suhas Naik: This strike is the outcome of the illegal things that Drishti and Tourism department has done for past nine years. It is the plight of the lifeguard who is working day and night to make sure no drowning and casualty take place in the coastal belts but they have to face the injustice. According to the law, it is mandatory to have the contract license to employ a worker. The government of Goa issued the contract even without checking if Drishti has obtained the contract license or not. According to the information I have with me, Drishti received their license only in the year 2015. The contract is running for past five years without License, provident fund, and ESI. The contractor was completely exploiting the workers.
According to the information I have, Drishti has just obtained the contract license and that too valid only till December 2016 and it is not a full-fledged license. The government is trying to wash their hands off saying that they do not have anything to do with the workers as they do not belong to the department but to the contractors. Let me remind the chief minister that under the contract labor regulation and abolition act, which is provided for the prohibition of the contract labor who is appointed in the essential and integral part of the industry which is in the present case. The tourism industry where the lifesaving job is integral, the safety of the tourist coming from all over the world is ensured by these lifeguards.
Goa Prism: Suhas don’t you think that it was wrong on their part to go on the strike right in the middle of peak season? They were holding the organization ransom while risking the lives of tourist by staying away from work.
Suhas Naik: Yes, that is a general perception but the actual thing is deferent here. In November, 2014, Government of Goa through their representatives the two cabinet ministers, Dilip Parulekar, Avertano Furtado along with tourism director Ameya Abhayankar, labour commissioner Fatima Rodrigues, Calangute MLA Micheal Lobo had entered into the agreement with the union and that agreement clearly says that 17 lifeguards whose services have been terminated will be taken back into the job within 10 days. The issue regarding the salary increase, regularization of the services and fixing other service conditions will be chalked out in a time bound manner.
Goa Prism: Out of 600 and odd employees why they terminated only 17 people?
Suhas Naik: They have terminated those 17 people since they were active in forming of an organization and that that is why the company decided to make the selective harassment of these 17 people. Although the government signed the agreement but Drishti decided to not to sign since they do not believe in the law of the land, They do not care for the government, trade union or workers rights and it is because of this, the workers decided to form a trade union. The forming of the trade union is guaranteed under the provision of law. Still we did not go for a strike. We once again gave them another strike notice for 21 days in September 2014. The notice was given to bring the arrogant employer to the tables for the negotiations, to make sure that bilateral talks and negotiations are held in the interest of workers.
Now here if the employer does not come for negotiations it is the job of the state government and labor commissioner to intervene into the matter, but nobody came forward. So now they cannot blame the workers. The government was aware of the season is coming closer and the strike notice was given to them well in advance. It is entirely the fault of the government since they have neglected the notice. These boys are coming from poor families and it is the government’s job to protect the interest of these people.
Goa Prism: According to our knowledge Drishti is not government organization it is a private entity.
Suhas Naik: Being the principal employer it is the duty of government to take care of the workers. All these years they did not had a license but still operating the business. The government cannot keep these labors on contract for an indefinite period. They have to keep the promise they made in the contract. According to that, they were supposed to reinstate the 17 employees back into their jobs which they have not done, they had also promised the increase in salaries.
Goa Prism: Drishti is claiming that they are paying the best salaries in the market.
Suhas Naik: They are paying the peanuts to their employees. The lifeguards working for 12 hours day while normal working is only 8 hours a day, they are not paying the overtime to their employee. They suppose to pay for the 8 hours of the highly skilled job while they are paying the minimum salary what is prescribed for the unskilled labors. As per the norms, the highly skilled employees should get 700 to 800 per day and that is what we are demanding at the moment.
Please do not believe Drushti since they have already violated all the law related things. They need to answer as why they run the business without obtaining the license. The answer is simple they wanted to violate the labor law. They did not have the intention to pay for the overtime. In fact, it was the duty of the government to check the authenticity of the contractor before giving them the contract but tourism department failed to do that.
Goa Prism: Are you trying to say that the government did not check their credentials before giving them the contract?
Suhas Naik: Yes, that is what is coming up from this entire situation. It shows that government did not check any past records and probably any documents while giving the contract to them. Even under what reason the contract has been given is the question mark since the contract goes into the room of crores of rupees. Even people are aware what happens in the government departments while giving the contract of such a nature.
Goa Prism: Do you mean to say that something like that has happened in this case?
Suhas Naik: Yes, it has to happen that way or else how they have given the contract to the company which does not have the license. The chief minister needs to give a satisfactory explanation on this issue.
Goa Prism: One more last thing before we conclude, is there any chances in near future of settling down this issue?
Suhas Naik: The CM of Goa does not understand the problems of the poor people. It is not only the Drishti but since the Parsekar took over as the chief minister of Goa there were series of agitation taking place in the state. The security guards issue is not resolved till date. The Municipal employees facing the similar fate, even the teachers came down on the road agitating for their rights. All these people are serving on a contract basis. The BJP government needs to answer, is the government serving only the multinationals and corporate in the state? They support only the rich and powerful people and are not bothered about the issues of poor and downtrodden? Is BJP government is interested giving Rs. 1200 to the household and tell them to survive on that amount? Are they not interested in protecting the jobs of younger section of society? Where are they generating the jobs as promised? Are they interested only in making empty promises of generating of thousands of jobs?
Entire Goa is supporting this agitation and if the time comes we will take this agitation to every nook and corner of Goa and we will make sure that the government has brought to their sense. We are not trying to threaten the government but humbly requesting them to come to your senses. They are poor and downtrodden people please come forward and help them.
Suhas has explained his part of the story which is true to the life. Now it is your turn to come forward and put forth your thoughts on this issue. Please write your comments and suggestions at the end of this article so that we try to reach your voice to the responsible people in the government.
The interview with Suhas Naik was conducted by Rajesh Ghadge (Editor)