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Poll lolly for casual workers
- Hands engaged for 10 years to be absorbed first

Calcutta, Feb. 18: The government has decided to make all casual employees who have worked for 10 years or more permanent, a lollipop for a few thousand people months before the general elections.

“Those who have been working for 10 years or more will be absorbed first. Then it will be the turn of those who have been working for at least five years,” irrigation minister Subhas Naskar said after a cabinet meeting this morning.

However, the permanent employment of those who have worked for five years or more will depend on the “state’s financial position”.

Naskar said: “The chief minister has assured us that their case will be considered later, depending on the state’s financial position.”

The chief minister has asked his cabinet colleagues to submit a list of casual employees to the finance and labour ministers at the earliest.

An official said the government had over 10,000 casual employees and a good many of them have been working for over five years.

Most casual employees belong to groups C and D. The first group primarily comprises typists and clerks. The other, often in the news for reasons such as shirking and negligence, has the likes of peons and hospital attendants.

The public works and irrigation departments together employ about 3,000 casual workers. The government has 55 departments but many like IT do not have an army of causal employees.

At the cabinet meeting last month, irrigation minister Naskar had objected when chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee announced his decision to absorb 13 casual workers in the information department, which he looked after. “Then what about those in my department?” Naskar asked.

Cornered, the chief minister had asked all departments to prepare their list of casual employees.

Today, he was quoted as saying: “This practice (of having hundreds of casual employees in some departments) cannot go on. We’ll have to make them permanent in phases.”

Finance minister Asim Dasgupta said he expected a clear picture on the number of employees to benefit from the move by early next week.

A labour department off-icial said a casual employee who now gets a daily wage at the rate of Rs 141.81 paise will earn around Rs 5,000 a month after being made permanent. The salary could go up to Rs 9,000 with the implementation of a proposed pay hike.

The last time casual emp-loyees were absorbed was in 1996, an Assembly election year. Ananta Bandopadhyay, secretary of the CPM-affiliated state government employees’ union, said 40,000 casual staff were made permanent then.

A PWD casual worker engaged since 1999 said he hoped they would not be made to do odd jobs and run errands for babus after being made permanent. “Besides earning less than permanent staff, we face a lot of humiliation. We have to do all types of odd jobs like serving tea to the babus and fetching snacks,” he said.

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