This article provides short updates on status of negotiation, legal cases, struggles and emerging issues in factories that we have previously covered on Thozhillalar Koodum.
Sanmina SCI Technologies, Oragadam Jintech Automotive, Sriperumbudur
Comstar Automotive, Maraimalai Nagar Apollo Tyres Manufacturing, Oragadam
Integra Automotive, Vallarpuram Greaves Cotton, Gumudipoondi
Renualt Nissan India Ltd, Sriperumbudur Venture Lighting, MPEZ, Tambaram
PMI Engineering Omax Dharuhera : Struggle reaches an Ebb
Contract Workers at Mark Exhaust Victimized
Sanmina SCI Technologies, Oragadam
Workers had struck work and led an onsite protest in March after an HR supervisor had verbally assaulted a worker. Even after the Labour Department had assured them there would be a conciliation process, intimidation continues in Sanmina factory as per workers’ accounts. The workers went on strike again after another supervisor had verbally abused two workers on March 31st. The strike notice says that the management has withheld 21 days of wages for the strike in March and has started giving forced breaks for workers. The administration has given work break for 32 workers for 6 days between 27/3/2017 and 1/4/2017 and for 110 workers between 3/4/2017 and 8/4/2017.
Due to these intimidation tactics by management, workers gave the management the following demands:
- Ensure industrial peace by recognising the majority union in the shop floor and entering into collective wage bargaining with the union.
- Ensure payment of 21 days salary withheld from workers.
- Take action against Mr. Vinoth and Mr. Thangam Suresh.
- Revoke the summary dismissal notice against workers.
- Ensure protection of union representatives by recognising them as protected workers.
- Revoke compulsory leave imposed on workers.
- Ensure good quality food in canteens.
In the absence of any gestures towards industrial peace by the management, the workers resolved to strike on May 8th. Union representatives informed Thozhilalar Koodam that workers had then revoked the strike notice following a conciliation proceeding initiated by the Labour Department on May 4th. Three meetings have been scheduled so far between the management and the union. Workers said that they are preparing for a gherao of Secretariat as part of AICCTU strategy to highlight issues of workers and trainees.
The Labour department has chosen to support most of the demands of the workers. The management has opposed the order citing it was pronounced ex-parte (without hearing the company’s arguments). The management has refused to take the four dismissed workers, but is willing to take back suspended workers on the condition that the case be closed completely. The union has not agreed. The DCL has urged all the parties to appear and end the strike through conciliation. The meeting is scheduled for 23rd May.
The wage negotiation between the Employee Relations Committee and Comstar management has come to an end after the 40 workers who had not signed 18(1) settlement with the management have agreed to the wage agreement. According to the workers, about 40 workers including some ERC members had objected to a clause in the wage agreement which penalised workers for taking unauthorised leave.
The management had announced that it would block the cards if a worker takes unauthorised leave, which would impact all benefits etc. In this context, a worker would lose as much as Rs. 6000 for even one day of leave. The workers contend that while the clause indicates this to be the case for unauthorised leave, the management can use this to penalise ‘truant’ worker denying them leave even under ordinary circumstances*. After negotiation, the management agreed to remove the clause, and workers then signed the wage agreement.
The long standing dispute of 26 victimised workers is continuing with 24 workers opting for the VRS by the management. Two workers continue to demand employment.
*Recently, a worker in Hyundai, who had taken leave last year and had visited Honda workers in his own time, was asked to explain his reason for leave.
After two days of work stoppages at Apollo Tyres Manufacturing in Oragadam, workers have joined CITU and have raised a charter of demands on various issues including wage increment, better leave policy, Overtime instead of Compensation through leave, shift allowances and among others. About seven conciliation meetings have been conducted so far. While management had indicated its willingness to do interim wage agreement for one year, the union has demanded collective wage agreement for three years, asking for a comprehensive increment of about Rs.35000. No compromise has been reached yet.
In the meantime, the union has advised workers to come to an agreement on benefits and the same has been intimated to the management and Labour officials. One of the worker representatives in the union has said that the leave policy and Overtime are the main welfare demands that the workers are pushing for. The workers have also asked for change in housing policy. According to the workers, Apollo Tyres provides Rs.1 lakh for workers who have completed ten* year to support them to avail their own housing. Workers have instead asked the management to buy land, which can then be availed by workers to build their own houses with the help of loans from the management.
The workers told Thozhilalar Koodam that the management has been indirectly pushing workers to accept an internal union, though they say even if there is an internal union, the majority of the workers will support the CITU union and hence do not seem to consider this as an option. The next conciliation meeting is scheduled for May 24th.
Integra Automotive, Vallarpuram, Chennai
RECAP: Nearly 100 workers were retrenched without notice when Intergra Automotive, a supplier of automobile parts, announced a plant closure in January this year. The workers accused the management of closing the plant to break their union and demanded that the closure be revoked and they be restored to work. They thwarted the initial attempt by the company owners to remove machinery from the plant by picketing the factory gates. After a week, the case was finally admitted in the High Court. The HC subsequently ordered the company to maintain Status Quo with regard to the workers’ service condition until the labour court can hear the case about a prior illegal lockout and pass judgement on the plant closure.
UPDATE: Company Housing Crisis: In the last article, we mentioned the harassment of the workers by the company and others to vacate company housing. The harassment continued even after complaints to the local police station. When a house owner physically abused one of the workers, the workers tried to file a complaint with the police, who refused to entertain their complaint and instead interrogated them for misbehavior. Workers allege that one of the police officers even suggested they vacate the premises as they have received compensation. Eventually, they decided to vacate the housing and have now rented rooms nearby.
Status of Cases: The Labour Court has declined to entertain a case against plant closure, citing the pending approval from the government. The other cases pending from the illegal lockout that was declared in June 2016, remain under trial as the bench was on vacation. The workers have decided to file a fresh complaint with the labour court demanding payment of wages for the duration of the case. It has already been five months since the last payment in December 2016. They have also initiated a complaint under Sec 2(k) of Industrial Disputes Act.
The workers fear that in the meantime, the company might have removed machinery from the plant, adversely impacting their service conditions. They complained to the local police, and when no action was initiated to ascertain if a violation had occurred, they moved the High Court with a contempt petition. The company has sought 3 weeks time to respond to the contempt petition.
Other Actions: Workers are planning other activities to raise their problems with workers through an awareness campaign in the area.
Life after Closure: Most of the workers had many years of experience with the company, and their initial struggle had been for an increase in wage commensurate to their experience. Many now have families with children. Nearly half of the workers are also migrants from other districts of Tamil Nadu. All this adds to the woes of the workers who are finding it hard to be reemployed gainfully. Many have taken to contract work in the absence of permanent work. A few have also moved out of the city in search of jobs. Some, especially in the leadership of the union, are too overwhelmed by the legal processes to find time to seek work. It is becoming difficult for the workers to pursue the cases or even attend regular meetings given the pressure of informal work. As days go by, the workers fear they may lose the legal fight even with justice on their side, because they don’t have the financial endurance.
Greaves Cotton, Gumudipoondi
RECAP: Greaves Cotton Ltd, a major manufacturer of farm equipments with plants across India, closed its Petrol Engine Unit in Gummudipoondi in April 2016. The company also terminated the services of nearly 300 permanent and contract workers. The closure was declared at a time when a labour dispute was pending before the labour commissioner’s office. Subsequently, with workers protesting both in the courts as well as in public, the company removed machinery to another plant in Ranipet.
UPDATE: With no legal resolution in sight, the workers have been struggling to gain a settlement through the conciliation process. Their demands have remained simple and unaltered. They want to return to work with Greaves Cotton and the plant to be restarted. The company has refused to accommodate the same, even in an informal meeting mediated through third parties. The case in the labour court has not moved further and poised for further delays. The workers have decided to press ahead with demands for monthly wage for the period until the cases are resolved.
Workers allege that the company should be persuaded by the government to restart the plant or forced to return the land as the land was provided by SIPCOT for lease with the guarantee that the company will carry on productive activity. Some workers have also alleged that the company, in spite of declaring a closure, continues to run quality control and checking at the plant . This contradicts the company’s claim that the unit was unviable to run. The workers have planned to take these complaints to the Tiruvallur Collector on 29th May.
Renault Nissan India Ltd, Sriperumbudur
RECAP: After nearly two years of struggle by workers against the company management and company anointed union, the workers, who were formally with ULF, agreed to join the internal union if their suspended comrades were taken back after closure of enquiries. On this agreement, the company and the workers concluded their labour dispute with the ACL in February this year. Over 63 workers had been taken back with back wages. The newly joined workers of the RNITS then demanded a general body meeting, fresh elections to the executive committee and leadership positions in the internal union.
UPDATE: Delay in Holding Elections: The present executive committee of RNITS has refused to convene an emergent general body or hold fresh elections to leadership positions even after three months. They have maintained that the newly joined workers will have to wait for six months before they can become eligible to vote. At the time of merger, 5 members of the ULF branch faction had been given joint secretary posts, replacing 5 members from RNITS faction. This was how the agreement was signed before the ACL. But the RNITS members who had not taken part in the agreement signing continue to hold office along with the 5 members from the ULF faction. Workers allege that the ULF faction is being sidelined and made ineffective.
Allegations of Financial Misappropriation: In a recent case of worker unrest against RNITS, a small group of workers locked the union office at the plant after the President and General Secretary repeatedly failed to address their issues. The problem started when on May 1st, the union gave all workers an umbrella and a pocket diary as gifts for Labour Day. The money for this had been apportioned from the workers fund set apart for emergency support to workers. The workers resented the funds being used for such secondary activities. Allegations of misappropriation also arose over the purchase of 4000 umbrellas at higher rates and some of them going missing. This led to demands for financial disclosures and calls for an emergency general body meeting to discuss the use of workers funds. With the office bearers refusing to call for a general body meeting or to address the workers concerns, a few workers resorted to direct action last week, locking up the union office. It is rumored that some union office bearers from RNITS has requested the management to take action against the workers.
Worker Unrest: A few months earlier workers went on a lunch boycott demanding action against a supervisor who had insulted and abused a pregnant women for taking too many toilet breaks. While the union had said they would engage the management on this, the workers had resorted to direct action by boycotting lunch. While the issue was resolved by management after personal discussion with the victim involving the women’s husband, these events expose the undercurrent of mistrust between the workers and RNITS leadership. It can be resolved only with a fresh election of office bearers who have the confidence of the workers.
Following the High Court judgement directing the management to form a sexual harassment committee and to look into workers’ complaints against a supervisor and a production manager, the strike was called off by the CITU-led union and workers went back to work. However, within days, some of the women workers were suspended on charges of instigating an illegal strike while other male workers were issued transfer orders to the company’s factory in Gujarat. These workers have submitted letters to the management stating that they will not be able to leave the city due to family circumstances; suspended workers are attending the domestic enquiry.
The management shows no sign of backing down as they seem to have instigated trouble between a group of women workers and a security guard. The incident occurred in March, when a few women workers were in the parking lot when they got on their vehicles to leave. The women noticed the male security guard taking a video of them on their mobile phone. When asked to delete the video, there was a scuffle following which 30 workers were suspended for assaulting the security guard. According to one of the workers who was present “This is completely instigated by the management and is being done to victimise us. There are almost 60 of us who have been suspended or issued transfer orders but we are facing the situation head on with the help of the union”, she said. Contract workers who are working on half the wages as these workers have been employed to replace them.
The Sexual Harassment Complaints Committee, which includes Com. Jayanthi, Treasurer of the MEPZ Employees Union, will begin their enquiry on 30th May 2017.
Com. Maheshwaran reported that a domestic enquiry is being conducted on 18 workers who were suspended during and after the strike. The High Court had directed the management complete the domestic enquiry by June 2017 in case of a few and in the case of others, a direction was given to solve the process through a conciliation before the Assistant Commissioner of Labour. These workers will also receive wages for a year. However, there have been some positive changes after the strike – workers are now being given their salary slips and new uniforms at the office rather than at the gate. The union is also preparing to challenge the High Court’s order prohibiting assembly outside the factory gate.
Omax Dharuhera, Rajasthan :
Struggle reaches an Ebb: The struggle of OMAX workers which started in February after 388 contract workers were retrenched has reached a critical stage with the management trying to shift the production to it’s other newly formed units and trying to close it’s Dharuhera unit.
The struggle, which started with protests of contract workers (including suicide of a contract worker Ajay Pandey on 13th February) had turned into a strike in April. In all 39 permanent workers were suspended in stages for supporting the contract workers. These 39 workers included the entire union body. All the permanent workers had struck work and Dharuhera unit had stopped production for a period of time. However soon the management started a variety of tactics to counter this strike.
On 17th April, the management moved an application in the Chandigarh labour department for closure of all but one section (plating section) in the plant. Part of the production has already been shifted to one of their other units called SpeedOMAX in Gurgaon. It should be noted that as this is a new unit, there is no union in the plant and salaries of permanent workers are low compared to that of permanent workers in Dharuhera plant. This is being done, even though their application to close the Dharuhera plant has not been approved yet and tripartite meetings are going on. A strategy like this done with the clear blessings of the state which allows management to get away with such maneuvers is devastating for plant level strikes and struggles.
The permanent workers have been forced to sign undertaking and majority of the permanent workers (the Dharuhera unit had close to 400 permanent workers) have signed and returned to work. A section of permanent workers have refused to sign it and this includes the entire union body.
Contract workers have not been taken back and with management planning to close the plant and shift production elsewhere, there appears little hope of them getting justice.
Contract Workers at Mark Exhaust (Haryana) get punished for forming Union
Mark Exhaust is a company situated in Gurgaon and supplies silencer to companies like Maruti, Honda. Till last April, the factory employed 495 contract workers who worked there for a period ranging from 5 to 20 years. They took part in core production and did the same work as permanent workers (who are around 80 in number) but their salaries were between 8200 to 9000. There was no rise in their salaries for the last 4 years and none of them were regularized even after working there for up to 20 years.
In contrast, permanent workers had a union which had regulated wage settlements with the management and their salaries were much higher compared to the contract workers. Tired of such exploitation and unfair treatment, the contract workers tried to unionize and on 16 April their union was registered. Their demands were an increase in their wages and regularization of their work.
The union submitted their letter of demand to the management after which on 24th April, management fired all the contract workers and shifted part of its production to other nearby units. It also got a stay order against the workers for 200 meters outside the factory gate. Since that day, the workers have put up tents 500 meters outside the factory gate and are protesting there. On 16th May workers held a meeting in Kamala Nehru park in New Delhi, and took out a rally to the secretariat where they submitted their complaint to the chief minister.