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SEMs stage demo before Raj Bhavan; demand minimum wages

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Reported by Santosh Jagdev
Bhubaneswar, Dec 26:

BIBHINA DABIRE ODISHA SWABALAMBI KARIGARA SANGHA PAKHYARU POWER HOUSE CHACK RE BIKHYOV
Hundreds of Self Employed Mechanics (SEMs), working under the Rural Water and Sanitation Services (RWSS) department at the Gram Panchayat level held a protest under the banner of Odisha Rajya Milita Swabalambi Karigar Sangha (ORMSKS)
near Governor’s house here on Thursday demanding payment of minimum wages o them.
Pradipta Ram, president of ORMSKS, said that the around 13,500 SEMs working at the gram panchayat level in the state had served for more than a decade operating, maintaining and repairing more than three lakh tube wells and 8000 pump houses in the state with an eight hourly daily duty, for an honorarium of just Rs 1000 per month. Their remuneration, which was just Rs 500 earlier, was hiked to Rs 1, 000 only in April this year.
With the increase of the cost of various commodities, the SEMs are struggling hard to make ends meet, Ram added.
Apart from regular work assigned by panchayats for maintenance work of tube wells in our own villages, SEMs are also doing all major works – from lifting and sinking of raiser pipes, major repair of pipelines, disinfection and all emergency duty at the time of calamity – as and when required by the JE, BDO and Sarpanches, Ram pointed out.
“Besides, they are also engaged in water sample collection, water testing, painting and numbering tube wells, tanker duty, maintenance of log book, attending block level meeting. The SEMs thus are doing more than that of a regular worker’s duty. And yet, they are not treated as skilled workers and are not been covered in the minimum wages schedule number-18 of the minimum wages act, 1948,” Ram rued, adding that Rs 10,000 per month be paid to SEMs.
“Earlier, we have protested in front of Chief Engineer and the Labour Commissioner offices here and later also held a dharana before Assembly. We have apprised Rural Development, Panchayati Raj, Finance and Labour Ministers of out plight, but failed to get any positive response from any of them. Left with no other option, we decided to stage a protest today near Governor’s House today to press our demand before him,” said Sangha Secretary Jitendra Balabantray.
“Our demands are genuine. We have urged the Governor to act positively on our demand,” Balabantray said. A memorandum in this regard was also submitted to the State Governor SC Jamir.
The organisation also demanded that all block level SEMs workers be upgraded to Rural Water Supply Employees (RWSE) on seniority basis; as Regular Pump Driver in every pump house and as Regular Tube Well Mechanics in every Gram Panchayat.