SWaCH — a waste picker-owned cooperative that was responsible for recycling throughout half of Pune, India — has been fighting a battle since it was squeezed out by a private contractor hired by the municipal government. The government and the company — responsible for recycling in two of the city’s wards — engaged in unfair competition, making it impossible for SWaCH to continue. In November, SWaCH terminated its agreement with the municipal government, and in order to keep their jobs, secured contract work with the new company. With the company, the waste pickers were not paid the full amount promised in the contract and their access to recyclables was threatened, among other problems.
So they took the case to the High Court, together with KKPKP as their union, and a major victory came out of it. The court proposed that the long-term contract should be modified to include waste pickers on a priority basis. The municipal government made a new call for public bids, saying the contractor must give preference to waste pickers already working in certain wards of the city. Another condition is that the contractor must abide by labor laws. It’s not a complete victory but it’s a huge step! The waste pickers who once were owner-members of their cooperative are now contract workers. But KKPKP points out the benefits of bargaining through a union and for there to be a way forward, waste pickers must be compensated and registered. This process will hopefully have persuasive value for administrators of other local governments and members of the judiciary when faced with demands of integration of waste pickers in solid waste management.