Sushant Jare, a gas cylinder delivery worker in Goregaon, Mumbai, was bedridden in late July for two weeks due to a severely pulled muscle (tendinitis). That is a consequence of his job – lifting gas cylinders, which are about 30 kilos, often over several floors.
“I joined the gas agency about three months ago, when I left my village to come to the city in hopes of earning a better living to support my newborn child. I dropped out of school in 9th grade, so I couldn’t get any office job, hence I had to resort to physical labour” he says .
Sushant was not given any kind of safety training, or protective gear to avoid injuries, this is testament to our ignorance towards the safety and well being of our service workers. The mistreatment of delivery workers is not new.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, cylinder delivery workers were consistent in their supply of cylinders but were not declared frontline workers to receive due compensation. “The situation was especially bad in the past months , since most people were scared of all service workers, the discrimination was always there, but now it was more obvious, and almost justified in the guise of a virus” says Jyoti, who goes by one name, is a gas cylinder delivery worker in Malad West.
Low wages and physical exertion
A full gas cylinder weighs about 30kgs. When lifting this kind of weight multiple times a day is is a health hazard. The work threatens the body in unimaginable ways, including permanent damage to the heart and bones. “Lifting such heavy weights everyday, without correct form or training can cause weak joints in the long run. There is a high risk of injury, and it is dangerous to work in a life-threatening environment despite despite low wages”, says Dr. Mahesh Moghe, an orthopedic surgeon at Omkar Hospital, Kandivali.
Cylinder delivery boys often suffer from conditions such as Angina, which are marked by severe chest pain, owing to an inadequate supply of blood to the body.
“I’ve heard of Angina cases in younger men who were/are cylinder delivery boys”, says Dr. Kakalee Saha, Cardiologist of Heart clinic in Goregaon.. “Doing this for long periods of time can cause more serious heart issues and high blood pressure.” she adds.
There are no medical benefits or other forms of security in the job, and the wages are exceedingly low. An agency gets roughly 40 rupees per cylinder. If the delivery boy is delivering close to 40 cylinders everyday, the gas agency makes 1600 rupees, which amounts to 48,000 per month. The salary of an average cylinder delivery boy is 10,000 rupees, so the gas agency, after subtracting diesel and maintenance, makes a profit of approximately 30,000 rupees per month per delivery boy hired.
10,000 rupees is not nearly enough to sustain a living in a city like Mumbai, let alone enough to support a family. Generous tips and bonuses during festivals have brought some respite, but the practice seems to have reduced in recent times, says Sushant.
But gas cylinder suppliers made their distaste for tipping known. In 2019, Indian Oil Corporation made it clear that they do not support tipping gas cylinder delivery boys. They asked that consumers call to complain if they were charged more than the retail selling price mentioned in the bill. “Not all gas delivery personnel demand money. But we want customers to discontinue the practice of giving tips, even voluntarily, since the RSP includes the delivery charges for reaching the cylinders to the customer’s kitchen” explained an official source.
There is currently no union for cylinder delivery workers in Mumbai that would potentially combat the issues of wages, healthcare and working conditions.
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A discriminatory practice
With the advent of technology, it is imperative to ask why the government still relies on manual labour for cylinder delivery. There seem to be no regulations enforced for gas agencies to ensure mechanical pulleys – meant to drag and lift cylinders up stairs – or safety training for delivery workers carrying heavy equipment through the day. “When I initially started, I had a sore body all the time, and I was considered among the strong ones,” says Sushant Jare.
Delivery workers navigate extreme weather conditions – from scorching heat to relentless rainfall. In several buildings there are signboards asking them to use the stairs instead of the lift, excluding them from the general public. “Many buildings here have such signs. When buildings have a separate service lift, I consider it a good day, although we (other delivery boys in the agency) have decided to not climb stairs, and instead ask the residents to come and collect it from downstairs,” said Jyoti, a delivery boy in Malad West.