Not allowed to use the common facilities and absence of add-ons like weekly holidays, breaks during work timings and insurance benefits, these show there is a class divide at the workplace which India Inc chooses to ignore.
Uma Kadhir, a 37-year old Mumbai resident just quit a housekeeping staff job in a pharmaceutical company after she was diagnosed with severe immune deficiency. This was purely because she was not ‘allowed’ to eat in the same cafeteria as the other staff and her work timings did not permit more than 20 minutes of absence. Result: She skipped meals.
“We, being housekeeping staff, were not permitted to eat in the main cafeteria or on our seats. Going to a nearby public canteen to eat meant a 20-minute walk and I was often reprimanded for being absent for a long duration. The company often cut half-day pay for this. Hence I ended up skipping meals regularly,” said Kadhir.
Discrimination between regular workers and contractual/blue-collared workers is one of the biggest issues plaguing Indian companies. While companies will not admit, there is a clear divide between the two not only in pay but also in the way the latter are treated.
Not being allowed to use common facilities like lifts (with ‘officers only’ lifts) or cafeterias as also the absence of breaks during work timings and no insurance benefits shows that there is a class divide at the workplace which India Inc chooses to ignore.
Says Kamlesh Singh, a night watchman at a financial services major, “My salary is due since the past two months. If the company is indeed facing a ‘slowdown’, why is it only salaries of the guards and cleaners been held back?”
Singh gets no public holidays that fall on Saturdays despite the entire office being shut. Though he is a full-time employee, he is allowed only seven days of annual paid leave while other employees get 25 days.
Right now, laws on discrimination at the workplace only relate to gender-based discrimination, discrimination against persons with disabilities and sexual harassment. There are no legal provisions in Indian law yet for the class or seniority-based discrimination. This makes it a challenge for workers facing discrimination to take any legal recourse.
Kavita Das, a member of the document dispatch team at a Kolkata-based advisory firm faced inappropriate behaviour from her supervisor. When she raised a complaint, Das was told that sexual harassment prevention laws don’t apply to her since she is a 'blue-collar worker' and was subsequently fired.
Dragging the matter to court was not a financial possibility and hence Das decided to shift out of Kolkata to her native place in Purulia, West Bengal. Though she is the sole earning member of her family, Das still remains unemployed due to fear of similar untoward incidents.
Her younger sister Asha works at an FMCG firm in Mumbai as a packing agent. An evening routine at the plant every day is to do a security screening of the workers which also involves checking their bags. This, Asha says, is to ensure that no 'thefts' take place.
"Why has the company presumed that we would steal? Regular employees do not have to undergo this shameful frisking every day," she said.
A legal solution to discrimination based on the employee position needs immediate cognizance. Not only do such practices demotivate workers but also makes them feel like an unwanted resource. It is a fact that each worker, from the chief executive to the junior-most staff, can make or break an organisation's reputation and brand.‘Equality’ seems to be a popular buzzword with human resource professionals in Indian companies. Apart from the token gender equality strategies that these firms advocate, what is needed is that equality and fair practices be applicable to all.
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