In LUMS, a battle over fired janitorial staff brews

The firing of 16 janitors from the campus over low wages has resulted in a public outcry led by students.


Rabia Mehmood November 23, 2012
In LUMS, a battle over fired janitorial staff brews

LAHORE: A group of students from the Lahore University of Management and Sciences, with help from a few instructors, have been campaigning for the re-hiring of 16 members of the janitorial staff relieved of their duties on October 23, 2012. 

The incident unfolded when the entire janitorial staff comprising of 101 people protested outside the campus demanding an increase in their minimum wages, as announced by the government in July 2012. Eventually students joined in support and began campaigning on campus.

It was announced that the janitorial wage would be increased from Rs7,000 to Rs9,000, but after the announcement 16 janitors from the campus were fired.

Rasoolan Bibi lives on a 10 minutes walk from the campus and had been working at the girls’ hostel of LUMS since 1996, a time when she says, “the campus was like a jungle and snakes used to be found, but when it came to firing us, they just told us not to show up the next day.”

Students brought the plight of Bibi and the other fired janitors into the public domain by setting up a Facebook page called ‘Not just brooms.’

According to the students, the treatment of the janitorial staff on campus is objectionable.

"It is about having a clear moral conscience. This is something which happened right in front of us this is something for which LUMS is responsible,” says Jahanzaib Sukhera, one of the student involved in the campaign.

LUMS' stance

According to the minutes of the open house between students and the administration, LUMS Vice Chancellor Adil Najam stated that LUMS is not responsible for hiring or firing of the staff.

Najam also stated that LUMS administration paid the sub-contractor Rs11,000 for each janitorial member, and was under the impression that Brooms, the contractor, paid the staff a “proper wage”.

Najam told the Express Tribune that LUMS supports the students's stance and is committed to doing the right thing, but refused to confirm the raise of the wages, saying "I do not have the contractual documents in front of me."

Brooms' stance

Brooms COO, Muhammad Suhail said that as per the contract with LUMS, any government increase in wage taxes or minimum wages were to be incorporated in the amount paid by the administration to Brooms.

Suhail told The Express Tribune that in the past LUMS would incorporate changes on time, but were late this time, which prompted him to write to them.  He also emphasized that while negotiations for minimum wages were underway, LUMS issued a letter for the firing of 16 janitors.

He says he tried to convince the administration that the firing would affect the quality of the cleaning services, but to no avail.

Brooms, is responsible for paying EOBI and providing social security for the LUMS janitorial staff, but admits that it is not given to the majority.

Suhail said that the Rs11,000 paid by LUMS per person also includes expenses for providing cleaning material, a van on campus for ensuring quick provision of cleaning services and 6% tax per person to the government.

He also said that according to a verbal agreement, the salary paid to the remaining 85 janitors on December 1, 2012 would be Rs9,000 per person.

Faculty weigh in

Angbeen Mirza, lawyer and a former instructor of labour laws at LUMS, has been helping the students frame the janitors’ issue in context of labour laws.

Mirza feels that the issue also has an ethical and social dimension and it is difficult to believe that LUMS does not exert a certain degree of control in how Brooms treats the janitorial staff.

She added that as an advocate of human and civil rights, LUMS has a certain responsibility to lead by example.

Dr Taimur Rehman, coordinator of Political Science department, also supports the students’ stance.

Rehman says that if Brooms is violating labour laws, then   it is LUMS' responsibility to do the right thing and not engage in business with such a company.

COMMENTS (32)

Dr. Akbar Ali | 11 years ago | Reply

Obviously someone is running a campaign to bad-mouth LUMS and ET is a major part of that. I guess Dr. Najam has his enemies at work. Although never thought such a mild and caring person would attract such venom. I guess this comes with the territory when you are at the top. So, LUMS, get used to it. This is Pakistan, people will try to bring you down just out of spite. That is what we Pakistanis do to our best people and our best institutions.

Arif | 11 years ago | Reply

Amazing how well-informed Express Tribune people are. I actually study and live at LUMS and all of us here know that this thing fizzled out weeks ago after the VC had an Open House and explained things clearly to students. Somehow Express Tribune knows better. Or does it?

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