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June 2, 2004

Govt employees under surveillance
Tuesday June 1 2004 08:38 IST

THRISSUR: Big Brother is watching 50-odd clerical staff in the municipality office at Chalakkudy in Thrissur.

The authorities have put up seven closed circuit television cameras making the municipality the first Government office in the State to have a staff surveillance system and bringing to the fore the ethical issues concerning the decision.

The cameras were set up on May 17 after a unanimous council decision by the UDF and the LDF councillors.

The workers went down heavily on the move saying that it is an infringement of their labour and human rights which may create psychological problems as they are being watched even during their lunch break. Stung by the vehement criticism of trade unions, the Left councillors now softpedal the council decision.

The idea is to monitor the working of the staff and ensure that they are working efficiently. Those who work diligently need not be scared. The decision to implement the system was taken six months ago and the implementation was delayed due to political instability in the council, says municipal vice-chairman V.O. Poulose.

This is just a small beginning. In due course the system will be implemented in other Government offices in the State. Even the general public is watched by a set of people in the comfort of their rooms. Only low rung staff like clerks, not officers, are being watched. Women employees also feel uncomfortable by the move, says Subran, secretary of Kerala Municipal and Corporation Staff Union.

Trade unions are contemplating legal action against the municipality.

The municipality, which went ahead with the decision after the nod from the Government, has so far spent Rs 65,000 for surveillance of its 50 staff members.

They should have invested in computerisation or modernisation programme, says Subran. Kochi-based company Hepta has supplied the equipment for the surveillance system.

We will also be investing in an audio system so that we can hear what the staff members are talking. Thereby we access their attitude to the public, says municipal secretary K.M. Prakasan.

Staff members complain that the public and political friends of councillors also watch them working through the televisions set up at offices of municipal secretary and chairperson Mary Nalan.

The municipality, which planned a public function to inaugurate the system, abandoned the proposal after the opposition from the staff members.

The workers in the unorganised sector like textile shops undergo this torment as they have no force to oppose. It will demoralise even the most hard working employee. One who was put under the camera for eight hours and be watched like reality TV actors would only know the pain, says an employee.


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