An assistant professor for civil engineering in Telangana was sent two terse messages by his institution last week—“please take a cut in salary, and don’t complain if the salary comes late".
“Private institutions have their own way of working. In the current crisis, they know you won’t protest," said the assistant professor who declined to be named.
Manu Kumar, a teacher in an Odisha college, agreed. “Days before the lockdown in the state began, my college told me to take around 30% cut in salary. The argument was: Though I am qualified, they can get my replacement for cheap during this pandemic."
The situation is not restricted to just one region. Across states, teachers and staff of many private educational institutions are either having to take a pay cut or fear losing their jobs.
Education and healthcare, industries that are often considered recession-proof, have not been spared by the current crisis caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
Education regulators in Delhi said that they have received several complaints about non-payment of salaries to teachers and staff. The All India Council of Technical Education (AICTE) has written to all professional colleges to desist from withholding salary payments.
“AICTE has been receiving complaints that some of the institutions have not yet paid the salary of faculty/staff for the month of March 2020 and in some cases even February 2020. Kindly note that this is a national emergency as the whole country is under lockdown due to covid-19 and non-payment of salary to staff would lead to great stress and even starvation to the families of some of the staff members. You are therefore requested to kindly ensure that the salary of faculty and staff is released in time," the technical education regulator said in a letter to colleges.
The development assumes significance as states and the Union government have advised employers to protect jobs and wages during this crisis. The human resource development ministry, too, has told institutions to be sensitive to the needs of the faculty and other employees.
There are 10,400 professional colleges, including engineering and management schools in India, where around 580,000 teachers are working. Besides, a few lakh support staff are also employed, mostly on contract.
The International Labour Organization (ILO), in a recent report, said that job losses, non-payment of salaries and reduction of wages may risk pushing 400 million Indians deeper into poverty.
“We have been hearing how the IT sector is gradually laying off people. The forced retrenchment in manufacturing sector is now known. While the education sector, which was largely recession proof, are now facing a peculiar situation. Since institutions are closed, many private colleges are withholding salary or forcing a cut. This can stop only if states and the central government issues statutory directives to employers to protect wages and jobs," said Amarjeet Kaur, general secretary, All India Trade Union Congress, a central labour union. A private education providers’ association, however, said that pay cuts are not widespread. “Maybe some institutions, which are struggling, are resorting to such tactics. It’s criminal to stop payment or cut salary in the present situation," said H. Chaturvedi, alternate president, Education Promotion Society for India.