Home Stories

Covid Warriors Protest: Delhi’s Daily Wage Crisis

Unpaid and Overlooked: Daily Wage Workers Recognised as 'Covid Warriors' Demand Justice and Job Security. Months of Unpaid Wages and Broken Promises Leave Families on the Brink of Desperation.

By The Probe Staff
New Update

"Only Kejriwal's guarantee is the real guarantee. All other guarantees are a lie. Kejriwal does what he says. Kejriwal doesn't lie," proclaimed Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, promising regular employment for daily wage workers. Despite such assurances, the grim reality for many of these workers who were recognised by the government as Covid warriors is far from what was pledged. Months have passed without pay, pushing families to the brink of hunger and despair.

Seenu, one of the daily wage workers who has been sitting in protest for two months, voiced her desperation. "Just as the government conducts raids in the homes of wealthy individuals, they should come and see the conditions in our homes. We're struggling to make ends meet—food rations, tuition for our children, and rent are all unpaid. I have blisters on my feet from walking to meetings and advocating for our rights."

Read More: Mental Health Awareness to Accessibility: Confronting the Crisis of Mental Health Care in India

She added, "We went door-to-door asking people to vote for Kejriwal, so now it's time for him to make our jobs permanent. Once we have stable employment, we won't need free electricity, free bus services, or free water. We'll be able to pay for these services ourselves. Our children's education is doomed today."

A Household on the Edge

Sunita Gupta, another affected worker, shared a heartbreaking account of her family's struggles. "I'm facing serious problems, and my household is struggling. Just yesterday, my husband fainted due to the immense stress we're under. I can't even afford to pay my daughter's college fees."

"To make ends meet, we have to work part-time jobs in addition to our regular work. We live in a rented house, and given our circumstances, I feel powerless to speak up or demand change," she added.

For the last two months, the workers under Delhi's health department have been protesting demanding regular employment and their pending wages. The situation has become increasingly precarious for these workers who were once hailed as Covid warriors by the government.

Read More: India’s invisible septic tank workers fight a losing battle

Saroj, a sanitation worker who has been left jobless, expressed her despair. "We are daily wage earners, and yet we've been left to sit on the road. We are the Covid warriors who worked during the pandemic and even handled the dead bodies. Despite all that we have done, we've received nothing in return; instead, we find ourselves abandoned on the streets.”

Kuljeet Kaur paints an equally bleak picture. "Our salaries haven't been credited for three months, and we've been sitting here for two months, making it five months in total. Our households are somehow functioning, but whatever savings we had have run out." 

She went on to add, "We demand that our employment be regularised and our salaries be paid, ensuring job security for 60 years. We continue to come for the protest because the bus services are free. However, the day we have to use metro services, we might not come."

Despite dedicating years of their lives to serving the city, hundreds of these daily wage workers today find themselves in dire straits. "Some of these workers have dedicated 15 years of their lives to their jobs, and yet today they are not only denied their salaries but also given no hope of achieving permanent employment," said Rajkumar, Chairman of Thekedari Hatao Rashtriya Sanyukt Morcha. He argues that this is a blatant violation of the Supreme Court's rules concerning the regularisation of employment for daily wage labourers.

Vinod Sangath, Founder of Dr. BR Ambedkar Manavadhikari Sangathan, emphasised the human rights aspect. "Many have been serving in these dispensaries for 10-15 years, and yet they face intimidation from contractors, companies, or administrators. How are these workers expected to perform their duties when they can't even afford to feed themselves or their families?"

Read More: India’s Invisible Domestic Workers: Unregulated, Unrecognised, and Deprived of Social Security

Hafiz Ghulam, General Secretary of Thekedari Hatao Rashtriya Sanyukt Morcha, explained how introducing contractors as middlemen has destabilised the workers' careers. "The duty is not fixed. The workers are uncertain about where they'll be posted or how many hours they'll be required to work. Furthermore, the contractors will have the authority to decide whether to retain these workers or bring in new recruits," he said.

Hollow Covid Warriors Certificates

"These 585 individuals are the ones who upheld Delhi's reputation during the Covid-19 crisis," Vinod Sangath reiterated. "For their efforts, all they received was a Covid warriors certificate from the Delhi Government, but the government has failed to pay their salaries, grant them permanent employment, or even officially recognise them as employees."

We reached out to the Directorate General of Health Services for comments on the story. As of the time of publication, they have not responded to our queries. Despite legal mandates and lofty promises from the government, these workers find themselves embroiled in a grim reality. Left with unpaid wages and job insecurity, their future remains overshadowed by the very system that should be ensuring their welfare and dignity.

To ACCESS and SUPPORT our exclusive stories and impactful public interest journalism, subscribe to our YouTube channel. Click on THE PROBE'S LOGO below to subscribe.