Over 350 workers of Diamond Engineering Steel Fabrication Plant in Mambakkam near Chennai, are striking against the labour violations of their management. Several workers have been imprisoned as the management took a high handed approach with the help of local police to suppress the workers’ solidarity. Judicial Magistrate Indira Gandhi has highlighted this aspect in a bail awarded to the imprisoned workers stating ‘Further there was a labour dispute pending before the labour court and the management ought to have resolved the dispute in labour court but have opted for prosecuting the workers through criminal court and obstruct their union activities”.
There are over 1300 workers in this plant, one of the three units of Diamond Group in this region. The male workforce is educated between 8th and ITI trained and has a work experience of over 5 to 15 years with this plant. The workers are from various districts of Tamil Nadu and also from other states predominantly from Assam, Orissa, Bihar and West Bengal. Workers from Nepal also working at the site.
The plant operates in a single shift between 6AM and 8PM. Workers are mandated to work these long hours. They can avail the canteen and transport facilities only when they work this extended shift. If they work in general shift starting at 9AM for more than 3 days, they get a memo. The workers are provided OT for the extended shift excluding the break times for the whole shift (which works to 4 hours OT). However, they are only given single wage OT rate and double wage as per the law. Their basic wages are between Rs 7000 and Rs 15000 per month.
The workers say that while the company directly employs them, they are not treated as permanent workers. There is no gratuity as per the act. In 2010, their PF was stopped, and the company created a private welfare fund called Diamond Family Welfare Fund(In one of the document shared by the workers, the fund says that their money is invested in real estate land). According to workers, 750Rs from the workers’ salary is deducted for the funds, which ought to be matched by the management equally. The company promised to give the entitlements from this fund in 2013 but did not do so.
When workers approached the management, they were told that the PF authorities had charged the company for defaulting on the PF and that the PF has been paid. After repeated requests to the management, the workers sat in a site-in strike in January 2015 for more than 15 days. The management appealed to Labour Department. After the conciliation meeting between works committee and the management, the Labour Department issued an order on 3/02/2015.
According to a labour dispute conciliation order, the management has said that the PF for November 2010 to June 2013 for 1100 workers has been paid and the management is continuing to deduct PF for workers, which it would pay in PF accounts. According to workers, only 600 workers have received the PF. For all the other workers, their PF account shows zero balance. The workers have been petitioning the PF department, which seems to take no action on this regard.
There were other disputes including wage increase, permanent employment order and unpaid wages, raised during the conciliation meeting for which orders were passed, but so far, the management has not taken any action. In April 2015, workers joined Sengai Anna District Democratic Workers Union, affiliated to central trade union AICCTU. The workers attempted to hoist a flat on May 1st and also sent notice of their unionization to the management.
The management retaliated by temporarily suspending over 400 workers. The workers approached the Labour Department but the management, even though it had earlier approached the same Department when it needed to, has now consistently refused to attend the conciliation meeting.
The workers have been continuously fighting since May, for reinstatement of workers and to ensure that their PF has been paid. A protest was held on May 9th, a public meeting on May 18th and hunger strike on May 29th was observed. Between June 8th and June 13th, the workers approached the State Labour Commissioner but even her intervention did not ensure that the management would approach for discussion.
On June 18th, the workers went on a on-site strike at the Gate and were approached by the Police to withdraw as the management had got a stay order against workers striking within 100 meters. The workers refused to leave and the District Superintendent of Police asked the workers to leave in the evening, stating that the workers would be allowed to occupy the strike spot the next day.
When the workers returned on June 19th, the gates were barricaded and police was brought in to hold the workers from the gate. In the scuffle, the police and the management allege that a security guard was injured. More than 200 workers were arrested and detained in a hall. In the afternoon, the police asked for representative workers for discussion with DSP, but the 15 representative workers were taken to be remanded instead. Their cell phones were confiscated, so they could not communicate with the detained workers, who were released in the evening.
The detained workers refused to budge from the hall, without the release of the 15 imprisoned workers. The workers were released without imprisonment. However, on 22nd early morning, the union representatives Ramesh, Suresh and Sankar were arrested from their bed in their home and remanded in jail on charges of abscond against earlier FIRs. The workers were released on bail on 26th June.
While a conciliation meeting has been scheduled for 30th June, workers from all the states are continuing to strike for their rights against the management outside the plant.