Its been a year since the 18 permanent workers of CMR Toyotsu went on strike on their demands for recognition of their union, wage increases and other benefits. The aluminum refining plant had over 18 permanent workers and 300+ contract workers, primarily women and migrant workers. Since then, the workers continue to fight their dismissal, transfer in the courts of justice with no end in sight to their plight.
On Oct 31, exactly one year since their strike, the workers came together to protest the injustice being meted to them, 10 meters from the gates of the factory. The Company had sought a permanent injunction against protests within 100 meters of the premises. However, a Subordinate Judge in Kanchipuram gave a temporary injunction against workers protesting within 10 meters of the premises. The protest was supported by local community, who oppose the company for the pollution that they say it causes to their environment. Workers from other factories also participated in solidarity with the protesting workers.
Comrade Iraniappan, General Secretary Chengai Anna District Democratic Labour Union said that the workers withdrew their strike on January 9th, 2017 after a public meeting conducted in front of the factory. However, the management refused to allow the workers into the factory and put forth 14 demands in the conciliation meeting (before Labour Department) for taking back the workers in the factory. Comrade Iraniappan said that while the union agreed to most of the demands, the union did not agree to management’s contention that the strike was illegal and the workers were not entitled to any wages during the strike period.
As the conciliation meeting has not resolved the issue, the union is planning to press the issue through labour court. In the meantime, the management had sought a permanent injunction arguing that the assembly was unlawful and that workers resorted to coercing ‘Hindi speaking North Indian Workmen not to attend the factory’ and they(the retrenched workers) ‘have no right to assemble and raise slogans, within the radius of 100 meters from the factory premises’(I. A 1263/2016 in O.S 310/2016 dated 27/April/2017). The union has maintained that there has been no police complaint against the workers or the union on unlawful assembly or other allegations by the management. The Subordinate Judge(Kanchipuram) has ruled that the company has upheld the temporary injunction while reducing the prohibited distance from 100 meters to 10 meters from the factory premises.
Even after a year the Labour Department is yet to conclude the conciliation talks and file a final order declaring failure. The long delay by Labour Department came under criticism by the speakers as they referred to the recent substantial pay increases for the Government employees, which continues to deny the same dignified wage and employment to private sector workers. Comrade Rajesh, District Secretary of AICCTU condemned the attitude of Labour Department which chooses not to support workers’ rights by not taking any action against management’s unfair labour practices. Comrade Rajaguru, State President of RYA, highlighted the complete contractualized employment in CMR Toyotsu and said that the Government was to have come up with rules for restricting precarious labour in factories by amending Industrial Standing Order rules. It’s been more than a year and a half since the Act was amended but the rules have not been framed, he said.
In the mean time, the workers without any financial support for past 1 year are finding themselves difficult to sustain themselves and their family. A worker, who has a young child to support, said “I do some temporary work to support my family. But wherever I work, I have learnt that if you dont demand your rights, no one is going to give them to you”.
The employment conditions are deteriorating in the Sriperumbudur – Oragadam – Maraimalai Nagar belt with low wages, insecure employment and no legal recourse. The State Government and the Judiciary continue to maintain the pro capitalist attitude by curtailing the rights of workers to associate, enforce collective bargaining, protest and strike. Injunctions against workers assembly in front of factory gates has become the norm. The need for workers movement to strengthen itself and fight for its rights against this onslaught is paramount.