Permanent workers of Magick Woods Exports in Maraimalai nagar have been suspended and terminated on various charges since 2012. According to workers, the persecution is due to the unionization efforts and ongoing legal battle for minimum wage payments in the factory.
Magick woods,specializing in furniture and vanity products for homes, has its headquarters in Canada. It has a manufacturing base in Maraimalai nagar near Chennai and in China. The Indian factory, employing 48 permanent workers and an estimated 350+ contract workers, is responsible for manufacturing wooden cabinets and furnitures for the company. The permanent workers are male workers and contract workers are predominantly female, according to workers. The work activities usually include providing finishing for the products and painting, done by both permanent and contract workers.
The permanent workers are paid Rs 15900 for their work. The permanent workers do not have any medical care as they do not qualify for ESI. The contract workers are paid on an average Rs 250 per day*(after PF and ESI deduction). The contract workers’ payslips do not reflect any details about the company or the contractor who engages them. While PF is deducted for the workers, there is no PF account details provided to these workers. When a contract worker’s employment is terminated, they need to apply for PF after 3 months with the contractor. It is the contractor who settles the PF money for the worker. The workers are not being given the interest that accrues with PF. This suggests that the PF may not be deposited with the PF authorities as required by law.
Every year, the contract workers are given a break usually in Feb – March, when the demand is low and they are not paid for this period. This also allows the company to keep the women workers as contract workers, even though they have been working with the factory for more than 5 years. The workers also say that during audit(the workers use this term for when the factory is visited by clients or factory inspectors), the contract workers are asked not to come to work and are not compensated.
The workers are given a cheap disposable mask twice a day and a thin cotton glove for safety. The workers say that the mask is hardly sufficient for the dust pollution in the factory. According to Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety, the workers need much better respirator masks for carpentry work to reduce dust inhalation.
In 2012, the permanent workers(61 workers then) unionized under CITU and filed a case against the management for minimum wages. According to the workers, they were paid Rs 2050 as monthly wage in 2004 and they were not paid minimum wage until 2008. The workers have demanded a back wage payment of Rs 35 lakhs from the management. The workers say that the management has retaliated in various ways in targeting the unionized workers. In 2013, 13 probationary workers were terminated on poor performance. Four permanent workers were also suspended and then terminated. They are continuing to fight for employment in labour court.
In June 2015, a permanent worker, one of the 5 workers who has initiated the legal case, was terminated for sexual harassment, a charge he denies. He says that the management had also promoted him to a staff position few months ago to buy him off. He has been arrested by police on 10th of this month and is out on bail on 17th. Since then, two more workers have been suspended on intimidation charges. These workers were also arrested by police for a day but no formal charges or FIR had been filed against them. A woman worker who is on a company mandated break, also said that they were not aware of sexual harassment complaints committee and that no gender sensitivity training has been conducted at the work place.
*From payslip of a contract worker