(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”.