Permanent workers belonging to CITU in JK Tyres Factory near Manimangalam, Kanchipuram District, have struck work since July 24th, demanding recognition of their union to represent them on the shop floor. CITU has claimed that over 600 workers from permanent and trainee categories are members of their union and has alleged that the management has propped an internal union to suppress the legitimate voices of the workers. In a dispute raised under Industrial Disputes Act, CITU has challenged the management to either conduct secret ballot or show documentary evidence of the internal union’s strength.
JK Tyres is a leading manufacturer of PCR (Passenger Car Radials) and TBR (Truck Bus Radials) tyres with 6 manufacturing plants in Mysuru (Karnataka), Banmore (Madhya Pradesh), Laksar (Uttarakhand) and Chennai . It also has 3 manufacturing plants in Mexico. It started its journey from West Bengal in 1977 as an Indian company and has grown into a multinational company with world wide manufacturing and customer base. According to workers, customers of JK tyres include Hyundai, Renault Nissan, Mahindra, Maruti, GM, Ashok Leyland, Daimler, TN State Transport Corporation etc. The Tamil Nadu plant was started in 2011.
The issues highlighted by the striking workers draws similarities with another leading tyre manufacturer Apollo tyres in Oragadam, whose workers had also struck work in April of this year. According to the workers, there is an estimated 1500 workers in the factory. Comrade Muthukumar of CITU, who is leading the strike, has said that the plant officials had quoted the figure of 420 permanent workers, 250 probationary workers and 250 trainees in one of the Labour Department meetings. There is no information on contract workers in the factory though they are employed in the factory. The workers are diploma engineers and some of them may have higher degrees. There are some workers from other states and no women workers work in the factory.
The workers’ grievance range from low wages to production pressure and lack of amenities at the shop floor. According to the workers, a worker with 6 years of experience is only getting around Rs 16000 per month. Even from this low wage, the company deducts Rs 200 for transport and Rs 200 for canteen. Wage increments have been in the range of Rs 300 or so. There is a minimum production target but even if the target is met, it is demanded that the production continue according to the workers. While the company has not given overtime officially, the workers say that those who work in 1st shift ending at 3:30PM will need to stay for the general shift timing which extends till 6PM. The workers say that the company conducts its meetings, trainings on safety and other topics in this time. There is no OT given for this extra time which the workers spend on the shop floor. Workers also complain of lack of basic amenities especially the quality of food that is given to them.
The workers say that they had given complaints on these issues to the management but their grievances are either ignored or the company issues memos, show cause notices etc to the complaining workers. There is a monthly meeting but the discussion is only on redundant issues such as water consumption but never on productivity, wage or profits.
Comrade Muthukumar says that CITU started its union in the factory in May, 2017. While CITU was strengthening its presence in the ground, the management had started an internal union in the factory. Muthukumar says that some permanent workers, belonging to CITU, were intimidated to join the internal union and made office bearers. In addition, the management has also targeted the active leaders in CITU by way of suspension and internal department transfers. This prompted CITU to raise an industrial dispute against the company on its unfair labour practices. Muthukumar says that the company has however, continued its unfair labour practice and had recently announced its intention to make a formal announcement on the union and CITU was forced to announce a strike. They have demanded recognition through secret ballot or documentary evidence of proof of majority on the basis of ‘one union in one factory’ principle.
Comrade Muthukumar says that the production has been impacted as more than 600 workers are on strike and the management is using contract workers and trainees by making them stay in the factory itself to continue production. CITU has given a complaint to Department of Industrial Safety and Health, which is supposed to enforce contract labour abolition rules. CITU has also claimed that forcing the workers to stay in the factory is tantamount to bonded labour and have also made appropriate complaints. In a meeting with the workers, he said that in a labour department meeting, the management representatives had asked that the workers can continue their strike but cannot stop the transport from the factory. In response, CITU has said that they will not stop transport of any finished goods but will not allow partially completed goods to be transported from the factory.
There have been several meetings under the mediation of Labour Department. According to Comrade Muthukumar, Labour Department has advised the company to accept workers’ demands but the company refuses to do so. He has said that CITU will increase the intensity of the protests if the company does not recognize workers’ right to unionization and if the State does not protect the workers’ rights. In the meantime, the local CITU representatives are in contact with the CITU union in Mysuru and Mysuru union has promised to raise this issue with the management.