There are 41 housekeeping workers at Ambedkar University, Delhi, out of which 8 are women. Their shift starts at 7 in the morning and goes on till 4 in the evening. Between 7 a.m. and 10 a.m. they clean the offices so that the teachers and administration can begin work on time. From 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. they clean the galleries, toilets, roads, etc. The work involves dusting tables and chairs; sweeping; doing poncha; emptying the toilet dustbin; cleaning the canteen area with acid and scrubbing machines. 12 p.m. to 1 p.m. is lunch, after which they clean all the dirt and mess that collects at the end of a working day at the university. The toilet and canteen are washed thoroughly first thing in the morning but has to be cleaned at least 5-6 more times during the course of the day as the students tend to make a mess of it without a care. Sometimes they are asked to come and work on Sundays as well without any bonus payment for the extra work. But the 8 women housekeeping workers are exempt from this.
Their daily wage is Rs. 233 and if they work the entire month it comes to around 7000 per month without any days off. However, the finance department at the university delays their payment every month by almost fifteen days. Every now and then a rumour spreads that the salaries will be increased, which gets everybody excited. But their salaries haven’t increased in the last two and a half years while the rents have gone up substantially (from Rs. 1600 to Rs. 2500 for a single room). Prices of necessary commodities have also increased including the Rs. 40 increase in the prices of whisky and beer that is a daily habit with one of the workers I spoke to. In comparison, the security guards earn less per shift (Rs. 6,600) but are able to earn more on the whole as they can do double shifts. The housekeeping staff does not have that option. One of the workers said that to make ends meet he works occasionally at a small factory owned by a friend of his, which makes electrical lights. This factory employs not more than ten people. He doesn’t work there regularly and only goes when the friend tells him of some available work. On those days he works there for around 4 hours – from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. He additionally repairs phones on Sundays to earn about Rs. 250 a week. In total, he manages to earn around 9-10 thousand a month but is not able to save any money.
The housekeeping staff said that in general they have good relationships with other workers in the university (faculty staff help them often by lending money during emergency situations) but still hide from them to escape the extra work they might be asked to do. This unpaid work over and above their own work can be anything from arranging books in the library to shifting water-coolers and other heavy objects from one place to another in the university. They are even asked to serve tea and lunch to teachers and students on occasion. However, they find it difficult to escape the extra work because on not being found, complaints are immediately sent to the supervisor who ensures that the work is done. The workers find the Stri Shakti canteen people particularly oppressive due to their repeated demands for cleaning. The other, smaller canteen owners and the workers have a more friendly relationship as these canteens provide free ‘chai paani’. The workers also said that there have been meetings with the VC to increase their salary but to no end.