Why were the VH staff fired?

A silent solidarity march was taken out at 5:30 PM on 24th August 2017 in campus to protest against the dismissal of 72 workers (out of strength of 74) of the Visitors’ Hostel (VH). We decided to explore the matter in more depth and conversed with the Deputy Director, Prof. Manindra Agrawal.

As is known to everybody by now, the change of contract of the VH is the reason behind the layoff. The primary bone of contention between the two sides is the rationale behind the change and subsequent layoff of workers. While the protesting students and faculty believe that the services rendered by the workers have been consistently good, Prof. Agrawal informed us that the administration has received several complaints regarding the low quality of services and moreover, many workers have been found indulging in activities that were unbecoming of them. On asking for further details into these ‘activities’, Prof. Agrawal preferred not to divulge those details on a public platform. Thus, the motivation behind the change in tender was primarily based on quality of services.

To improve the services of the VH following the complaints, a committee was formed which decided to float a tender for the VH. Like every tender floated by the institute, open bids were invited and anybody was eligible to apply. In addition to the process followed, a team visited the facilities of the bidders to ensure that the services were up to the mark. The contract was finally awarded to Sarovar Hotels.

The agitators believe that even if the contractor had to be changed, there were no valid grounds for laying off the workers. The contractor could have started operations while retaining the old workers and the institute should have taken measures to ensure this. Prof. Agrawal believes that since the process of restarting services in the VH had been delayed, the contractor brought experienced workers with him to get things up and running as soon as possible. This in turn meant that most of the current workers would be unemployed starting 1st September, when the contractor is supposed to take charge. In parallel the contractor planned to conduct interviews which would continue for a certain period and the decision to retain workers would be made subsequently. This uncertainty of employment raised concerns among the community and in turn the Director instructed Sarovar hotels to speed up the interview process so that the interim period of unemployment can be reduced. But, it was inevitable that certain workers would find themselves without a job even after the process was completed, either due to incompetence or due to requirements of the new contractor. There have been some concerns regarding the interviews conducted by the contractor too, wherein the concerned community members believe workers were asked irrelevant questions which in no way could be used to decide their future employment. Prof. Agrawal informed us that those were informal interactions that the contractor decided to hold because he was visiting the campus and had some time on his hands. The formal interviews have commenced and a decision would be take based on these interactions.

To mitigate this problem of unemployment, the institute decided to train the laid off workers, at its own expense, in skills that would help them find employment elsewhere. The administration has also highlighted a favourable situation for the workers in the establishment of new messes where they may be able to find employment. The advantage is that working in hostel messes is not as demanding as lending services to the VH, so it is likely that even if they are unable to meet the standards of the VH, they would be accepted in the new environment.

The reason why the institute authorities are not willing to force the hand of the contractor into retaining the workers is quality of service. According to Prof. Agrawal, the administration does not want to give the contractor a reason to not deliver good quality services, which he would get if forced to work with the old staff. Cancellation of the contract, he believes would not be a possibility as it was done via proper procedure and there are no grounds to cancel it. As for the transparency of the tendering process, the institute already has a well defined, public procedure, he says.

An additional concern that has been raised is with regard to the contracts of the hall messes which are to be renewed soon. Concerned members of the community believe that there might be a possibility of hundreds of mess workers losing their jobs since a precedence is being set by the VH incident. Also, the argument of quality of service may be applied in the messes too and new deluxe restaurants might be given contracts. This introduces the possibility of old workers being fired for not meeting the quality criteria. To confirm these concerns we contacted Pratyush Rai, CoSHA convener. He negates this fear of firing off mess workers, as a deluxe restaurant can’t get the contract for the hostel messes as it will have a direct impact on the BDMR. Secondly, small and medium size contractors will have to pay for the relocation of the workers, which is not a sound idea considering the fact that mess establishment charge is also administered. Hence they will prefer to retain the existing mess workers. Pratyush further added that the mess workers are aware of their rights and the administration ensures that they receive the minimum wages. So, the concern about the job security of the mess workers is unfounded.

With each passing day, more concerns are being raised and there are still many unanswered questions in this debate. We will keep the readers updated about the proceedings.

Written by Anmol Chaman, Harshit Bhalla, Shashank Gupta, Simrat Singh, Tanmay Rao

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  • Dr V N Sharma

    This is Manindar Agrawal’s mouthpiece to support all sorts of corruption in IITK-money making through workers de-employment, re-employment and fresh employment. Since it has been going on for long it appears IITK is teaching new ways of money making to its students. IITK should formalise it in the form of a formal course with S/Sri Anmol Chaman, Harshit Bhalla, Shashank Gupta, Simrat Singh, Tanmay Rao alongwith Maninder as faculty members for the course.

  • katyusha_123

    Can we also have interviews of 72 workers who are getting fired? I think VOX will do a great service doing that. Moreover, the workers at the hostel messes should worry since a top brand can bring inexperienced workers at the pretext of professionals, pay them much less or take bribes for hiring them, while at the same charging the students almost the same. The BDMR etc would remain unaffected by this strategy. The whole thing is about saving on the labor cost. This is exactly what is happening at VH. A bigger brand has taken over and going to hire less experienced people lying in front of us that they are better professionals. The whole moral fabric of the community is in danger. If we cannot save the livelihoods of other human beings, then what is the point of getting good education and doing research. For whom?

    Also I am surprised that VOX did not ask more questions and passed several assertions without challenging them. For example, the article presents the Institute’s version without much investigation that the Institute received ‘verbal complaints regarding the low quality of services and moreover, many workers have been found indulging in activities that were unbecoming of them’ but the Institute cannot ‘divulge those details on a public platform.’ What? This is maligning the reputation of someone without telling the proper reasons. By the standard of ethics, if the Institute did not divulge evidences, then those charges remain nullified, and VOX should not have published this point, or at least should have written that this version might not have basis. Anyway, I request VOX to also interview the people who have suffered through this decision. In a country like ours, where the chasm of inequality has grown larger ever, we must ensure that the underprivileged sections of society have their voices too. VOX can be that voice.

  • Ashok Gupta

    This is a one sided story. I would request VOX to also interview current VH-workers to get their side of the story. In any organization, one can always find a few employees who are performing below expectations. Does that mean all should be fired? IITK admin making derogatory statements about employees or quality of service without providing evidence is irresponsible. VOX should insist on hard evidence before publishing such comments. Not to divulge those details on a public platform is a cop-out and cowardly.

    Most of the alumni and non alumni who have stayed in VH will vouch for the great service they have received. I have personally witnessed it. A sample of what VH guests have said about VH can be read on the following link: https://tinyurl.com/y9yg3j5q

    What concerned alumni have learned is:

    1. The new contractor does not have qualified people. These people do not even know how to set up a dinner table for an elegant dinner!

    2. The new contractor asked one question in the interview, “how much salary you are making?” when workers said “min wages” they probably did not like the answer. The worker was not selected. Does this mean the new VH contractor has no intention of paying legal min wages to workers it hires? It appears that all interviews were farce. Those who were not interviewed have been selected. Those who were interviewed were rejected!

    3. We have come to know that contractors at IITK are demanding Rs. 40-50,000 from new recruits as a condition to offer them a job. That may be the reason why existing workers are fired and new workers hired so that contractors may collect this easy money. We hope that is not the case with the new VH contractor. Hope VOX will investigate.

    In an institute of national importance with a mission to, “inculcate(s) human values and concern for the environment and the society,” inflicting misery on its lowest paid VH workers through mass-firing and possibly to mess-workers in future is unacceptable. We expect better from our alma mater. IITK should make it a policy that contractors may change, but all workers should be retained unless there is a documented reason for not retaining a few of them.