On 37th day of their indefinite strike, more than 100 workers of Nokia Siemens Network protested infront of Finland Consulate in Mount Road, Chennai on September 27, 2012 asking the Finland Government to intercede with Nokia Simens on behalf of the workers. This followed the refusal of Nokia Siemens Network management to engage in a trilateral negotiation on several demands by the Nokia Simens Network India Workers Union. “We have been fighting for the last 6 months and the management refuses to listen to our demands.” said one of the women workers who had participated in the protest.
The Finnish Multinational Nokia Siemens Network manufacturing plant was setup in Oragadam SEZ in 2008 and employs about 250 permanent workers and 200 contract workers to produce network cards for telecom giants Vodafone, BSNL and Nokia. The workers are 12th passed and/or ITI trained. The workers state that a 12th passed worker gets Rs 4500-Rs 5000 and ITI trained worker gets Rs 5000 to Rs 6500. “Even our prior experience is not counted here. When I joined this company, I was paid Rs 3500” says one of the ITI trained worker who has worked in other manufacturing firms for 4 years before coming to Nokia Siemens Network.
“How can we live with this kind of wage? We all come from various districts and stay in rooms around the area. Its difficult to live with this wage and send money home” said yet another worker. According to the workers, the plant makes 300 units of small network card which are priced at about Rs 1.5 lakh daily and another 30 big network cards priced upto 1 crore rupees monthly. When we make so much money for the company, why cant they raise our salary? ask the workers. The workers allege that in the last 2 years, they have been paid an increment from Rs 200 to Rs 1000. The workers are demanding a basic pay of Rs 10000, recognization of the union and reinstatement of 18 suspended workers.
This is the third strike by the workers in this year. In February, the workers had declared strike under Anna Thozhilalar Sangam(ATP) demanding wage increase. Following an agreement infront of Assistant Commissioner of Labour, the strike was withdrawn. The workers say that after the strike, the management tried various tactics to intimidate the workers. They say that 53 workers’ badges were taken away denying them access to the plant and these workers including several women workers were taken to a separate room for several days where the management threatened them and tried to bribe them. The workers allege that the management intimidated that the police would be sent to their homes if they did not withdraw the demands. One of the worker states “They do not treat us like a human being. They do not treat us with respect”.
The workers formed a union Nokia Siemens Network India Workers Union under CITU and submitted a set of demands and declared second strike on April 9th (for which a strike notice was served prior to the strike). The management retaliated by terming the strike illegal and suspending 73 workers. Following an agreement for negotiating the demands infront of Deputy Commissioner of Labour and an agreement to reinstate the suspended workers, the workers withdrew strike on May 2nd. However the management reinstated only 55 workers and has continued the supension of 18 workers including 2 women workers.One of the suspended worker said that ‘the notice for suspension and the charges have only been filed last week” almost 6 months after the suspension.
The union has been meeting with the management for 18 rounds of discussion in front of the Labour Department. With no progress in the negotiation and continued intimidation by the management, the workers declared an indefinite strike on 22nd August. In a letter sent to all the workers on 4th of September, the management has declared the strike as illegal citing that the factory is a ‘public utility’ (Factories in SEZs can be declared public utilities under SEZ Act) by the Tamil Nadu Government.
Further more, the management has sent letter to the parents of the women workers stating that “the women workers are indulging in immoral practices by hanging around with the male workers!”. A woman worker participating in the strike said that ‘this is an intimidation tactics to harass the women workers. My parents were a little apprehensive after they received the letter but I am determined to fight!’. While the permanent workers have been striking, the management has continued the production in the company by increasing the contract workers according to the workers.
With the management refusing to discuss the demands of the workers, the workers and the union protested and petitioned the Finland consulate to pressurize the Nokia Siemens Management to respect the local labour laws. Muthukumar, President of the Nokia Siemens Network India Workers Union said “The Finland Consulate has promised to forward our petition to Finland Government and take necessary action”.
Speaking to the workers on the protest, A. Soundararajan, General Secretary of CITU said that ‘The Governments of India have given lots of subsidies to these companies. They enjoy tax subsidies for 15 years and they get uninterrupted power supply while the rest of Tamil Nadu suffers. But these companies do not even pay proper wages to its employees. While the same firm pays more than 1.5 lakh rupees to its worker in Finland, it refuses to pay even 1/10th of the salary to the local worker. They do not respect the local laws such as abolition of contract labour. All of this is possible because the Labour Department is dormant and does not ensure adequate protection of labour rights for the workers’. Mr. Soundararajan also stated that if the Government does not safeguard the rights of the workers and force the management of Nokia Siemens to recognize the union and the workers’ right to collective bargaining, the protest will be intensified.