Can Industrial Standing Order in factories restrict fundamental rights of Workers?

A protest against restriction of freedom of expression and right to unionization in MNCs in Tamil Nadu

Thousands of workers of United Labour Front(ULF) came together in a massive protest on Independence Day to question the validity of Industrial Standing Order taking precedence over right to freedom of speech and right to unionisation, which are being widely denied in the industrial sector of Tamil Nadu. The workers felt that independence day was the right time to question and reflect the idea of citizenry when workers are being repressed and the companies are taking more intrusive role in the lives of workers outside the factory gate.

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Over 2000 workers and trainees from various factories including Renault Nissan, MRF(Arakkonam, Thiruvottriyur, Pondicherry), Auto Steel Piple of India, Godrej, Hindustan Lever Ltd, Kwangsung Chengadu, KB Automotive, NVH India, NHKF Krishna Automotive, Myoung Shin India Mannur, Wipro Infrastructure, Gates United India came to lend their support to the workers who are being penalised for demanding fundamental rights.

Speaking on the occasion, a union representative from Renault Nissan said that the auto manufacturer has issued show cause notice to 59 workers who had attended a protest in March 2016 against anti worker policies of the company and demanding that their union is recognised. The workers say that the company continues to target workers for commenting in facebook and other social media and hundreds of workers are affected. The workers allege that MNCs do not allow for freedom of expression in the factory(as was reported in Hyundai few weeks ago) and suppress right to unionisation.

Christopher, organising secretary of ULF said that the Supreme Court has recommended that recognition of union is mandated through secret ballot in a case pursued by MRF Workers in 2007(Case 2512/India). He demanded that the State enact laws for mandatory recognition of unions. He decried the contractualisation of work force and the show cause notices being given by Renault Nissan when workers participated in a protest outside. He said that the management is confident of doing this because they know that government will not go against them and only a working class control of the government can make things better for the workers.

Sekar of MRF Union said that the major issues facing working class were the lacuna in recognition of the union and lack of respect for labour laws among the management and the State. He said that a country is built on production and governance and was failing on both these counts. He pointed to lack of agricultural development, improper industrialisation, FDI inflow allowing MNCs to exploit the working class and environmental degradation as examples of these failures. He castigated the Judicial system which was failing to enable social justice for workers and cited the delay of MRF union petitions between 2009 and 2016. He asked what the pro corporate bureaucracy was doing when more than 250 labour cases were pending on right to unionisation.

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Prabhakar, union representative from Renault Nissan questioned why the government did not ensure quality employment for workers in MNCs when it had justified land and other subsidies to Renault Nissan and other companies in the name of employment generation. He highlighted that ULF has received an interim injunction that bars the company taking any action on the 59 workers facing internal inquiry without a direction from the court. He recalled the dismissal of 44 workers on various pretexts and called for an end to the unfair labour practices.

Prakash, founder of ULF, discussed at length, the ‘unfree’ conditions that working class lives, even 70 years after independence, by adding that there was no freedom from poverty, no right to pursue proper education, right to struggle, just remuneration for work in the independent India. He asked the workers to reflect on the idea of nationhood and freedom by reminding that 90% of the citizens are toiling in agriculture, industry and construction, and questioned if India is only for minority capitalists. He asked what kind of FDI is being allowed when not more than 10 out of 100 workers are permanent in the industrial belts surrounding Chennai.

Prakash recalled the Chicago struggle when women workers demanding 8 hour work day were shot and the white flag they were carrying was soaked with their blood, earning the working class, the right to hold red flag. He said that today without overtime, workers cannot survive. He explained the various issues that are going on in the factories and the actions by ULF and the unions to counter them.

Workers raised slogans on the ‘slavery’ like condition and the need for independence for working class. They demanded that the State does not repress workers for fighting for their rights.

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