Nokia employees demand open dialogue

April 6th, 2014 No comments

(Laveena, Asian College of Journalism)

With the future of Nokia plant in Sriperumbudur entangled in a tax dispute, around 3000 Nokia India Union Employees held a hunger strike on Monday for eight hours to attract the attention of State and Central governments to secure their jobs by ensuring that the tax dispute is resolved soon.

Nokia is currently embroiled in two tax disputes. It faces Rs.21,153 crore tax liability from the Income Tax Department and a Rs.2,300 crore tax notice was served last month by the State government.

The Supreme Court dismissed the Company’s appeal against Delhi High Court order that demanded an undertaking from the company in March this year. As a result, the Sriperumbudur plant, part of $7.2 billion acquisition deal with Microsoft, cannot be handed over till the tax dispute is resolved.

D. Sreenivasan, member of Nokia India Thozhilalar Sangam, said, “We have organized this hunger strike to attract the attention of the Government towards our fear of retrenchment and to demand better communication from the management.”

According to a statement from Nokia India management, “We have worked in a transparent and constructive manner with the labour representatives since this tax case started, we will continue to do so.”

The Union members and workers present during the hunger strike claim that the company has reduced production capacity of the Sriperumbudur plant. Sreenivasan adds how for the past six months they have had 35 non-productive days and earlier existing three working shifts have been reduced to two.

Workers claim majority of the production work has been assigned to the new factory in Vietnam. According to news reports, Nokia’s newly launched phone “Nokia X” will also be imported from China rather than be produced in the city factory. Nokia does not openly respond to this query in its press release. It defends the company’s internal planning by saying “We consistently look for ways to optimize production.”

The Sriperumbudur factory employs close to 8000 employees out which 3500 are women. Majority of these women have either dropped out of college to earn a livelihood and most of them do not have an alternative career to look forward to.

S. Deepa, 27, is a BSc graduate who has been working at the factory for the past eight years. She said, “I live along with my parents and younger brother who is physically handicapped. I am the sole earning member of the family. If I lose this job I do not have a back-up plan.”

In December last year Nokia India had made indications that the workers would have to work as contract labourers incase the plant transfer to Microsoft is not a success due to the tax dispute. This is not acceptable to the Union, said Sreenivasan.

A Soundarajan, Centre of Indian Trade Union (CITU) leader and MLA who was present during the hunger strike said, “We feel that the management has no valid reason for retrenchment. They keep delaying by saying they are waiting for instructions from Finland.”

Nokia India released a statement saying that they would continue to “conduct an open dialogue with the employees as we navigate through this challenging time”.

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Nokia: ‘Disconnecting People’

April 1st, 2014 No comments

 

The young leader extolled “We are 6000, but only one union…others have 3000, but many unions. We have unity, we will fight….”. A roar of approval rises from the crowd, whistles and claps rent the air. M Saravana Kumar, President of Nokia India Thozhilalar Sangam was addressing a 3000 strong crowd of permanent workers from Nokia India Pvt Limited (NIPL).

We are infront of the state government guesthouse at Chepauk in Chennai.  Workers from the Sriperumbadur factory of NIPL have gathered in Chennai to observe a one- day hunger fast demanding that their employments be secured as the Company and the governments (Centre and State tax departments) fight out the tax battles in the courts.

The crowd is vocal and energetic. There is anger and hope and a sense of frustration as we speak with the workers, who are mostly women in their mid twenties or early thirties.

The trouble started in March 2013, when the Central Income Tax department raided the Sriperumbadur factory and slapped a Rs. 2000 crores tax evasion notice on NIPL. That was also the time when the Thozhilalar Sangam negotiated its long-term wage agreement with the management and the workers were happy with their new wages.

NIPL challenged the tax claims first in the Income Tax Tribunal, then in the Delhi High Court and finally took it to Supreme Court of India. Meanwhile, the tax claim figures rose to a whopping Rs 22,000 crores. In March 2014, Supreme Court of India rejected Nokia’s plea and ordered it to give a guarantee Rs 3500 crores. Right on the heels of the SC order came the Income tax notice from the Tamil Nadu government asking Nokia to pay Rs 2400 crores for selling its products in the domestic market instead of exporting while claiming the export concessions.

While the tax shenanigans were going on in India, in September 2013 Nokia Corporation in Finland announced a USD 7.2 billion deal with American software giant Microsoft to buy its global handset business. This meant that the NIPL factory located in Sriperumbadur would get transferred to Microsoft. This factory has been Nokia’s high volume factory that achieved ‘500 million handsets in 5 years’ beating their Chinese counterparts who took ‘15 years to achieve the same’.

The announcement of Nokia-Microsoft deal galvanized a slew of actions by IT department that froze Nokia’s assets and bank accounts in India and put a halt on its transfer to Microsoft fearing non-recovery of tax dues if the transfer went through. Nokia went to court and the long legal battle started.

While all this was going on, the workers were assured by the Nokia management in India that their employments will be protected and they will soon become ‘smart workers’ of Microsoft. But the workers noticed the changes that were happening inside the factory. The volumes of handset being produced were going down (from 13 million handsets a month to 4 million), frequent no production days, shifting of machinery to the newly constructed factory in Hanoi, the layoff of over 1500 contract workers between November-December’13, the arbitrary sacking of the trainee operators, the change in shift patterns from 3 shifts to 2 shifts…all this created a sense of anxiety amongst the workers in the last few months. Finally, in March 2014, in a communication meeting, the management informed the Union that a possible job cut of 2000 permanent workers might be inevitable. At the same time workers also learnt that NIPL had split into two entities-NIPL and Nokia India Sales Pvt Limited (NISPL) and that the tax issue will affect only them being employees of NIPL under which the factory operates.

The young workers, who had finished their school and joined Nokia when they were 18 years old, many of them now married with children, with their families dependent on their salaries now feel ‘let down’ by the company they had once thought was their ‘family’. Most of them have loans and are repaying their debts from their salaries. They come from all over Tamil Nadu, mostly from MBCs and SC castes from farming or weaving background, this being their first factory jobs where they have spent 6-8 years. Now they fear that after assembling phones for Nokia for so many years and not being young anymore—‘companies prefer 18-23 years of age, we are 26-27 years, who will employ us’-they may have become ‘un-employable’.

Listen to some of their voices as we speak to them while they brave the sun and heat and gather here to demand that justice be done!

Right-click and save link to download

[audio src="http://radiopotti.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/03/Nokia-India-Thozhilaalar-Sangam-Hunger-Strike-March-31-2014-TN-Labour-Blog.mp3"]

 

(Story filed by TN Labour Blog and Radio Potti)

 

 

 

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Asian Paints Workers on indefinite hunger fast as strike continues towards 100 days

March 21st, 2014 No comments

The permanent workers of Asian Paints Limited in Sriperumbudur have been on strike demanding end to unsubstantiated penalizing by management of workers and demanding just bonus for the workers since December 20th last year( http://tnlabour.in/?p=2018). With no progress made in trilateral discussion between the workers, state labour department and management, 5 of the workers have started indefinite hunger fast on March 21st at Union Office in Sriperumbudur.

This follows a road roko at the Gate on Monday March 17th, when workers striking at the gate did not allow any workers or management to enter the factory site and halted the production for more than 3 hours. According to the workers, the management has been continuing the production at the factory site with the help of trainees and contract workers illegally with  increased accidents at the site.

Asian Paints Workers block the factory gate(Photo Credit: Thozhilalar Orumaipadu)

The workers had opted to end the strike after an advice from Labour Department asking for negotiations on demands to continue in the factory and agreed to by both parties. However  the management is said to have asked for increase in production in a sudden move which is opposed by the workers as the production expectations are covered in collective bargaining agreement. The workers refused to discuss these new demands outside of the collective bargaining agreement thus forcing them to continue the strike. As the strike continues towards the 100th day, 5 workers have started an indefinite hunger fast. While the workers have formally lodged a complaint against the continued production at the factory site, the Labour Department has not initiated any action in halting the production while strike negotiations are going on or in protecting the rights of the workers.

Posters carrying solidarity messages from other unions (Photo Credit: Rajavelu)

 

 

 

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Outrage at the murder of NLC Contract Worker by CISF – Protests in Chennai

March 19th, 2014 No comments

Outraged workers and union representatives voiced their protest against the brutal murder of Rajkumar, an NLC contract worker in Neyveli on March 17th by Central Industrial Security Force. Rajkumar was shot dead at close range by a CISF personnel who was supposed to have fired three rounds into the unarmed worker.

Rajkumar was one of thousands of contract workers who have been fighting for regularization of their employment and a wage level at par with the permanent workers under various unions including AITUC and CITU. An estimated 13000 workers work as contract workers in the profitable public sector company which has also been in news for Central Government’s initiative to privatize the public sector company.

Rajkumar, a member of AITUC and father of 2 children was said to have gone to NLC mine II to visit a friend. The CISF personnel did not allow the worker to enter as the worker had an expired ID following which there was a verbal altercation. It was not clear what transpired between the personnel and the worker when the personnel shot the worker in the head at close range causing the head to shatter and loss of life on the spot.

As outrage poured into the streets of Neyveli, local police were brought in to quell the workers protests who lathicharged the protesters. Several union members and workers were hurt and were hospitalized on March 17th. The outrage was further sparked by lack of arrest of the CISF jawan. As the mining workers went into 24 hour strike, workers and union representatives from AITUC and AICCTU gathered on March 18th near Valluvar Kottam in Chennai to condemn the gruesome act.

The representatives demanded immediate arrest of the CISF jawan and to withdraw the deployment of CISF at factory sites. Speaking on the occasion Comrade Waheeda Nizam, National Secretary of AITUC questioned the rationale for deployment of armed personnel at factory sites and the attitude that is fostered by the management among the personnel that causes such acts of violence against workers.

Echoing similar views, Comrade Mohan, AICCTU highlighted increasing police violence against workers and people of Tamil Nadu in Paramakudi, Dharmapuri and Neyveli. He condemned the lathicharge of workers in Neyveli where the district secretary of AITUC was seriously hurt. Mohan said ‘Governments have absolved themselves from guaranteeing livelihood to workers and now they are not even guaranteeing lives of workers’.

Comrade Srini of AITUC highlighted the inhuman conditions in which the CISF personnel were deployed in factories. Deployed mostly from North India, the CISF personnel do not have any benefits or regular working hours. ‘They are treated as army personnel with no holidays or leave in regions where language, food and culture are alien to them and where they are made to look on workers as enemies’ said Srini.

Speaking at the protest, Tha. Pandian, CPI demanded the immediate arrest of the personnel and compensation to the worker’s family. Comrade Munsamy, District Secretary of AICCTU demanded justice for the worker and his family and questioned the attitude of the state Government which had not even condemed the incident.

The unions made following demands to the management and the Government:

  • Immediate arrest of the CISF personnel
  • Rs 25 lakh compensation to the victim’s family and assured education for the children.
  • Guaranteed Employment for victim’s immediate kin.
  • Disarming and Withdrawal of CISF from factories.

 

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Protest by AIDWA, WWC. CITU and DYFI against the murder of IT employee

March 6th, 2014 No comments

Activists, students and trade union representatives of AIDWA, WWC, CITU and DYFI protested against the murder of Uma Maheswari, a TCS employee who was murdered in Siruseri IT park on February 13th. While the police ignored the complaint of her father after Uma went missing on 13th, the body of the employee was found 9 days later on 22nd when passersby noticed a foul stench emanating from a bush near TCS office. Four migrant workers were arrested in connection with Uma’s murder. An estimated 1 lakh employees are working in various firms in the Siruseri IT park and 30% of IT workforce is estimated to be women.

Comrade Latha, State Secretary of CITU deplored the apathy of the IT companies and the state in ensuring safe working environments. She termed IT work as modern bonded labour citing that labour laws including regular working hours, secure transport for women workers on late shifts are violated at these worksites. She said ‘After Prathiba’s murder in 2005, Supreme court laid guidelines on women’s safety measures which was endorsed by Justice Varma Commission. However these guidelines are not enforced. Only after Uma’s murder, this is being taken up seriously’. She called for registration of migrant workers by labour department for registration of migrant workers in construction industry.

Calling for implementation of sexual harassment at workplace, Vasanthi, District secretary of Working Women’s Council said that it should not be forgotten that other women workers such as domestic and housekeeping workers are also employed in IT sector and security and rights and concerns of these workers are not being included. She questioned why enforcement of labour rights and security responsibilities are not part of MOUS signed with IT companies when the MOUs guarantee so many subsidies for the companies. ‘While companies are installing CCTV cameras all over including rest rooms to monitor their employees, why are they not using technologies to ensure safety for employees?” said Vasanthi.

The apathy of the State Government and Police specifically came under lots of criticism in the protest. Prema, District president of Working Women’s Council condemned the patriarchical attitude of the Inspector who was supposed to have told the father of the worker(when he went to complain about his missing daughter) that she(the woman employee) was likely to have eloped with a guy. Dhamu of DYFI said that while evidences of sexual violence and harassment against women in public spaces are mounting, the lack of implementation of the laws is not even on the agenda of the Governments’.

The protest held at Sholinganallur Signal on 28th of February called for the following demands:

Ensure security for women employees in IT Sector.

Do not show apathy on complaints about missing women or sexual harassment complaints.

End the continued violence on women in Tamil Nadu

Ensure swift action on perpetrators of sexual violence and sexual harassment.

 

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Street Vendors Bill Passed in Parliament

February 20th, 2014 No comments

The Street Vendors (protection of livelihood and regulation of street vending) bill 2013 was passed by Rajya Sabha at the fag end of the tenure of  UPA II. The bill was passed by Lok Sabha in September 2013. But due to hurdles caused by BJP in the Rajya Sabha, it could not be passed in the upper house. The street vendor’s led by NASVI, mounted a powerful campaign directed against the members of Rajya Sabha and the BJP, which eventually relented and the bill was was passed by the upper house, bringing to fruitation a long standing demand of street vendors to recognise their occupation and to protect them from harassment by the police.

This bill paves the way for recognition of street vending and vendors and assures to protect them from evictions and harrasment from police and local authorities. The text of the bill can be accessed from here

NASVI (National Association of Street Vendors in India) has welcomed this development. They had been in the forefront of the struggle for a legislation that would provide legal recognition and security to the vendors who faced significant levels of harassment, constant threat of eviction and forced displacements. The bill, implicitly recognizes the contribution of this large section of the working class to our national economy and thereby bestows an improved status to these workers. While it is being hailed as an important step in the right direction, it is also recognised that the bill in its present form has certain serious deficiencies and its implementation will be an uphill struggle for its proponents and the street vendors.

here is an earlier article on this issue

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Unorganised workers protest in front of collectors office

February 20th, 2014 No comments

Unorganised workers from various sectors protested in front of Chennai Collectorate on 19th of February on various demands to both State and Central Government. The protest was organised by Unorganised Workers Federation.

The protestors placed the following demands for the State Government and Central Government.

  • Repeal of GOs 122, 123 and 124 which includes Revenue Department in the approval process of registration of workers and welfare measures for the unorganised workers under Tamil Nadu Manual Workers Social Security Act. Implementation of grievance redressal in the social welfare implementation
  •  Effective implementation of social secruity by including independent unions in State Advisory Committee, allocation of 3% budget for social security and increase of the cess to 1% under Central Act. Agricultural Workers Welfare and Fish Workers Welfare to be brought under Labour Department.
  • Implementation of ESI for unorganised sector and removal of procedural impediments in accessing pension for unorganised workers with 15 days of wages computed for pension. Increase in the provision of other benefits including maternity, natural and accidental death, unemployment benefits during seasonal halt of work.
  • Immediate stop of displacement of slum dwellers in the name of beautification and development, and in-situ rehabilitation of slum dwellers and implementation of housing rights for urban working class.
  • Abolition of bonded labour in stone quarries, rice mills, brick kilns, power looms and agriculture and rehabilitation of released bonded labourers.
  • Registration of migrant workers for social security and implementation of temporary ration card, schools and creches for migrant workers.
  • Minimum wage notification for domestic workers and flour mill workers. Legislation of protection of rights and working conditions for domestic workers.
  • Legislation of Street Vendors Act under National Street Vendors Policy and effective implementation of the act to protect street vendors.
  • Direct lease  of land for salt pan workers and unemployment benefits during monsoon to be provided.
  • Effective implementation of Scheduled Castes and Tribes(Prevention of Atrocities) Act and implementation of forest rights.
  • Legislation of rights of agricultural workers including minimum wage notification, land reforms and distribution of surplus land for women agricultural workers.
  • Legislation of Central Act to protect rights of natural resources including land, water and housing for coastal population and protection of the lives of fish workers.
  • Implementation of electoral reforms, decentralised planning, prohibition and effective implementation to stop violence against women and corruption.
  • Become a signatory to UN resolution 1990 on protection of migrant workers across nations and implementation of new ministry for migrant workers.
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WORKERS ON STRIKE AT ELITE MADRAS GYMKHANA CLUB

February 8th, 2014 No comments

(Pon Vasanth Arunachalam and Arindam Majumder, Asian College of Journalism)

Gymkhana workers wish its members a very Happy New Year”- the huge banner at the gate of the Madras Gymkhana Club is hard to miss! But for the 210 workers of the club, 2014 has been far from happy. Their strike demanding an increment of wage and a year-end bonus has entered the 58 by 31 January. The workers have not received their salary for December and January.

N.James, Vice President of the Madras Gymkhana Club Staff and Worker’s Union said that the contracts of the workers are to be renewed every three years and new wage levels negotiated through collective bargaining. But there has been no hike in their wages since last two years. “The last contract expired on 31 November, 2011; since a case was pending against the committee, we were told that the contract will be renewed after the case is settled,” he said. “When the new committee took charge, we were promised that our demands will be met soon, but no action followed,” said N.James.

Two months ago when two office-bearers of the union went on a hunger strike for two days, Labour Department, Govt. of Tamil Nadu intervened and the management of the club was asked to reach a solution. But the management did not respond. After repeated unsuccessful appeals, the workers started an indefinite strike on 5 December, 2013. “A 14 day deadline was given to the management but there was no reply from their side,” he said. On 14 December, 2013 the workers and their family members protested against the management.

He added that though the members of the club have increased, the number of workers have reduced from 360 to 210.

On 30 January, a member of the Madras Gymkhana Club has been appointed to hold talks with the workers. Though one round of talks has taken place, there has been no communication from the management.

Meanwhile, though the workers are facing an uncertain future due to non-payment of salary, they are ready to continue their struggle. K.Papaiya, a worker at the club said “Even after 30 years of service, I receive a salary of Rs 9,000 per month; we will stand by the union and support this strike till our demands are fulfilled.”

The Gymkhana Club management was not available for comments.

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Unsafe conditions and deaths in construction sites and Government Inaction

February 4th, 2014 No comments

(Abhishek Saha, Asian College of Journalism)

Chennai: The recent accidental deaths at Saidapet metro-rail construction site and a building construction site in Egmore bring forth serious questions about safety measures at construction workplaces across the city.

On January 12 , 20-year-old migrant construction worker, Ranjith Biswal from Odisha, lost his life when a 70-tonne crawler carrying a 22-tonne load came crashing down on him at the Saidapet metro construction site. Another worker 19-year-old Tira Naik, was severely injured and had his left leg amputated.

Last December, a migrant construction worker was killed and three others seriously injured when a lift carrying the four malfunctioned and snapped at a Larsen and Turbo (L&T) construction site on Ethiraj Salai in Egmore.

A migrant worker at a construction site in Taramani

Safety Issues

After the Saidapet accident, the inquiry carried out by Gammon India (the company, in a joint venture with Moscow-based OJSC Mosmetrostroy, is constructing the metro rail station) laid the entire blame on the crane operator, without any mention on safety aspects at the site. As for the Egmore incident, nothing has come out of the police investigation yet. However workers and unions have a different view on the safety measures implemented at construction sites.

Read more…

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Update: Asian Paints Workers’ strike enters 47th day

January 31st, 2014 No comments

Determined Workers are continuing to struggle against the Asian Paints management on their demands of wages, bonus and again the harassment of workers on various pretexts. As the strike entered 47th day, trilateral deliberations between the union, management and labour department continue in stalemate as the management insists that workers stop the strike and sign an ‘obedience bond’ before entering the workplace and negotiating on the demand.

Bouncers hired by management in front of Asian Paints Factory Gate (Photo Source: Indian Labour News)

On 27th January, the case has been moved from Assistant Commissioner’s office to Joint Labour Comissioner who has convened the next meeting on 10th of February.  Before that on 26th January in a meeting of the workers, workers deliberated on whether to continue the strike. ‘Around 200 workers met in a group of 40 and deliberated on the continuation of the strike. The workers said the management will only increase its vilification if the workers go back now and overwhelmingly decided to continue the strike.’ said worker representative Rajesh.

In the mean time, the workers wearing a cloth badge with their demands are doing door to door campaign in nearby villages and meet with village representatives to gather solidarity and to collect finances to sustain the campaign. Labour Classes are also scheduled during the strike for workers by AICCTU to which the workers are affiliated.

For more information on the struggle, refer to earlier reports http://tnlabour.in/?p=2018 and http://tnlabour.in/?p=2037

 

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