Nineteen permanent workers of CMR Toyotsu are on strike since 31st October, 2016 demanding end to unfair labour practices by the management. Since their attempt to unionise, they say that management had retaliated by transferring 5 workers to various factories in North. The local villagers of Pillaipalayam where the factory is located and who have opposed the pollution of their village by the factory, are standing with the workers in opposition of the factory.
CMR Toyotsu Pvt Ltd is a collaborative venture between Century Metal Recycling Pvt Ltd and Toyota Tsushu Corporation in Japan. They produce aluminum alloys for various companies including automobile manufactures and parts suppliers. Century Metal Recycling has several other factories including Manesar (Haryana), Tapukara (Rajasthan), Haridwar.
The Tamil Nadu factory located in SIPCOT near Sriperumbudur was started in 2012. The workers say that initially over 48 skilled workers were employed as trainees. Their initial wage was at Rs 9500 (Net at Rs 8600). After a year, only 20 workers were retained as permanent employees while other workers were let go under the pretext of various disciplinary actions, according to these workers. The workers say that there was no appointment or any written confirmation provided to them when they joined the company as trainees and the appointment of their employment was provided on 1st December 2014 more than a year after they joined. Their current wage is at Rs 10700 (Rs 9500 take home). In addition, they company is employing 200 to 300 contract workers comprising mostly of women and migrant workers.
The workers allege that the facilities in the company for amenities including canteen, transport and safety are inadequate. They say that while the company has an ambulance, there is no driver and the workers are expected to drive them when there are accidents. The workers say that there is also pollution dust and no adequate protection gears are provided to the workers.
The workers say that they decided to form the union after their complaints to the management was ignored. On 29/01/2016, they joined Sengai Anna District Democratic Trade Union, affiliated to AICCTU. On 26/2/2016, the workers sent a notice to the company with general demands. The union has also filed a petition with labour department on these demands. The management has refused to speak with the union representatives on the petitioned demands. Speaking on the workers’ demands to recognise the union, the HR manager of the company said that they are not legally mandated to recognise the unions in Tamil Nadu.
The workers say that since then, the management has dismissed one worker, suspended another worker and transferred 5 workers to various other factories in the north. Specifically, the president and the vice president of the branch union were given transfer orders on May 2nd, 2016, a day after the union hoisted the flag and setup a union board in front of the factory on May 1st. The transfer order says that the worker will be transferred from CMR Toyotsu company to Century Metal Recycling company and the worker is given 1 week time off with pay to report to the new factory which would be given only at the transfer. The worker will be given additional Rs 1000 per month as allowance for the shift. The workers PF account and their benefits would be shifted to the new company and the transfer letter is the new appointment letter for the company.
Refuting the charges of the workers that this was a retaliatory measure, the HR manager of the company said that this was a standard policy of the company and that these transfers are done across the factories. The HR manager also referred to the appointment letter (dated 1/12/2014) which includes the clause on transfer. However, the workers ask how they can move to a new place where they dont know the language and are contesting the order as unfair labour practice. The evidence seems to favor the workers as the workers have been given hardly any time or inadequate financial support(For example, the transfer policy of the company only provides wage, travel reimbursement and allowances only after the move is complete) and the transfer seems to be permanent reemployment in new company.
According to the workers, the management initially refused to allow the workers to hoist the flag. The workers say that the flags and the boards were removed and broken parts were thrown near the village. The HR manager denied the allegations and suggested that it might have been the move of the workers themselves. There does not seem to be any eyewitness account to what happened in the factory which is located right near Pillaipalayam village and where there is 24 hour security and 3 shifts of work.
The locals of Pillaipalayam are not happy with the company either. According to the locals, the factory stands on their agricultural land, which was acquired by SIPCOT who had promised employment in such factories. According to the locals, not only were the local youth not employed in these factories, but also the factory is polluting their village. They say that livestocks in their village have been affected with some form of burns and that the factory releases smog in the air which causes breathing trouble. The locals say that in 2014, they complained to TNPCB and police and also protested against the pollution but the police had arrested and remanded over 14 of the youth in the village. The HR manager refuted any pollution in the area and has said that in 2016, IIT Chennai had conducted an investigation on the pollution and TNPCB has extended the certification to the company till 2017. However, the locals say that the pollution continues even now.
Since March 2016 when the union had petitioned the Labour Department for conciliation, there has been no resolution of the case. Hence workers have struck work since 31st October 2016. The workers say that there is support from women contract workers, some of whom have expressed willingness to join the union and the management is planning to replace the contract workers. While the union had pressed for various demands including wage increase in their initial petition, currently they are fighting against unfair labour practices of the management and demanding that the transfer of the workers are withdrawn.
On Nov 10th, over 100 people including local community, panchayat representative, and workers from Hyundai, Nippon Express, Lear, Asian Paints, Tenneco expressed solidarity with the struggling workers. Representatives from AICCTU including Comrade Iraniyappan, Comrade Bharathi, Comrade Rajaguru and Comrade Rajesh spoke about the issues facing these workers and their fight to reinstate the workers. The community representatives, local youth groups and workers (including dismissed workers from Asian Paints) gave financial support including rice and monetary contribution in an inspiring show of solidarity.
The next tripartite conciliation meeting is planned on 11th November between Additional Commissioner of Labour, the union representatives and the management.