Employing people on contract on a meagre salary is ruining careers but the government can afford to ignore them for the high unemployment rate in the state. Ikhlaq Qadri reports
Writing data and memorizing details is what Showkat Ahmad is doing these days. He is in his mid thirties. He is new to the job.
Showkat’s 12-hour work day starts at 8 in the morning. Having recently joined an insurance company as a sales executive, he searches for potential clients all day. Earlier, he worked as a contractual lecturer in the education department. After serving the department for five years, he was shown the door.
Showkat is married with one child, and losing the job was stressful and depressive.
“The job in the education department was also hectic but it brought some income,” he says.
Showkat has two master’s degree (in English and Kashmiri) and a B. Ed degree from University of Kashmir. “I was left with no option that to join the insurance company,” he says. “My friends give me tips of approaching customers and briefing about various policies.”
The government employs thousands of people on contractual basis in various departments such as education, agriculture, police, health and pays them one fifth of the salary of a regular employee.
The lecturers employed on contractual basis are on strike against the “apathetic” attitude of the government and “injustices” done to them.
“We have protesting against the injustices for a long time now. We have been wearing black arm bands on work but as our pleas were falling on deaf ears we have to resort to strike,” says a contractual lecturer, wishing not to be named.
Fayaz Ahmed was working in the education department as contractual lecturer. He is paid Rs 7000 a month – almost one fifth of what a permanent lecturer gets.
“I used to serve the education department in Gurez. I was paid a meagre salary. While the permanent faculty serving in the far flung area are given accommodation and other facilities, the contractual employee is given a fixed amount to manage everything,” says Fayaz Ahmad. He quit the teaching job to take up a low level but permanent government job.
The contractual lecturers at higher secondary level are paid a salary of Rs. 7000 per month. They allegedly they are made to do extra work, which includes teaching at the primary level. “In some cases besides teaching the scheduled classes, contractual employees are made to teach primary classes as well,” says Showkat.
The government employs people on contractual basis for a year and at the end of the term the employees have to go through the same process again –submitting application forms, affidavits, certificates and other documents to renew their contracts. “To go through the same procedure every year is humiliating, and the services of our counterparts in Jammu continue without re-applying,” says Fareed Ahmad, a contractual lecturer.
In the affidavit they have to mention that they will leave the post once it is filled up. “We have to mention that we can not claim for the permanent position and leave once the post is filled permanently,” says Showkat Ahmad.
The education department does not give any weightage to experience while making contractual recruitments every year. “If I have served the department for five years, my experience is not counted anywhere. I am as good as a fresher.”
Last year for the same posts around 4500 applications were received, and around 1200 applicants were engaged on contractual basis.
“This year it will take us some more time to ascertain the number of applicants,” says Dr. Tariq Ahmad Kawoos, principal Amar Singh College and also the nodal officer.
Sources in the department said that there will be a regularised timetable for contractual college lecturers, which may include taking six classes a day.
In case of college lecturers, the salary is Rs 8000 for teaching assistants and Rs 12,000 for college lecturers. The eligibility for teaching assistant is post-graduation and National Eligibility Test (NET) or State Level Eligibility Test (SLET) for college lecturers.
The president College Contractual Teacher’s Association, Fayaz Ahmad Khan, terming the job of contractual teachers as ‘bonded labour’.
“Firstly, the pay we used to get was what the basic pay of a permanent college teacher. This was in accordance with the court orders. But after 2009, the salary of contractual college teachers was slashed without any reason. Secondly, and strangely the nomenclature of the contractual lecturers was changed to ‘academic arrangement’ after 2008” he said.
The government had devised a policy under which the ad hoc and contractual employees would be regularised after putting in seven years of service but, sources say, the college lecturers have been kept outside its purview.
“Even after working for 10 to 12 years, many among us are still working on contractual basis,” he says.
Fayaz is also worried about the new timetable being started in colleges for contractual teachers saying that it would mean more burden for both teachers and students.
“Earlier a contractual teacher was supposed to take four classes a day but now it has been increased to six. That would not only overburden the contractual teachers but leave nearly 1100 (of the 1700 contractual college teachers working presently in different colleges of the valley) jobless. It will also severely affect the teaching-learning process,” Fayaz said.
The contractual lecturers have been fighting against the “injustices”.
“Right now, we are protesting in a subtle way. We go to classes with black bands on our arms and voicing our demands through Facebook,” he said. They are planning to go on strike.
The University of Kashmir, which also employees teaching staff on contract basis has slashed the salaries of contractual employees from this year.
Earlier the university at its South Campus was giving the salary of Rs 22,000 to the contractual lecturers having Ph. d degree; Rs 19,000 for Mphil/NET holders and Rs 18,000 for the post-graduates. But now the salary has been slashed to Rs 15,000, 13000 and 12000 respectively. In the main Hazratbal campus the slash is harsher –Rs 12,000 for the Ph d candidates, Rs 10,000 for Mphil/ NET candidates, and Rs 9000 for the post-graduates.
They cannot avail leave for more than 15 days of their contract tenure. Like college and higher secondary lecturers, university lecturers are facing the same problem of applying as a fresh candidate every year.
“I prefer working as Rehber-e-Taleem (low paid school teacher) than being a contractual lecturer,” says Sheikh Towseef, a recent pass-out of University of Kashmir. “Though exploitation is there as well, but at least there’s a sense of security,” he adds. The Rehber-e-Taleem are paid Rs 2000 a month but their services are regularised after five years.
The only listed company of the state, J&K Bank, has also started making contractual appointments. They have kept two years as the contract period. The last appointments the bank made were of Relationship Executives and Financial Service Executives in 2008 and IT executives in the year 2010.
These were the officer scale posts but the remuneration for first two years was just Rs 10000 per month. Remuneration had fixed component of Rs.8000 and variable component of Rs.2000, which is performance linked. During the contractual term the employee is not entitled to any leave expect a casual leave of 15 days in a calendar year.
Legal experts say that the government is exploiting the contractual employees. “In the West there’s this concept of hire and fire but they are paid well,” says Dr Sheikh Showkat, who teaches in the Law department of Kashmir University. “The system hires five people at the cost of one permanent employee. In the West it is regarded as liberty, but here it is bonded labour,” he says.
Noted sociologist Dr Bashir Ahmad Dabla terms the hiring of people on contract and paying them meagre salaries as “inhuman”.
“It’s inhuman on part of the state to ignore the needs of these employees,” says Dr Dabla. “It is ruining everything, including the person who is working and the system for which he works.”