Modern Bread workers on protracted agitation

Workers of Modern Bread Bakery Unit protested for the third consecutive day on November 1 and plan to protest daily till the management of the Hindustan Unilever (HUL) run factory accept their demands for subsidised canteen, enhanced insurance coverage, and new promotion policy among others.

Daily protest scene at the Modern Bread Bakery Unit, Taramani, Chennai

The workers, who are under Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU), have been agitating for over 45 days for these demands, said Srinivasan, General Secretary of the CITU union in the factory at Taramani, Chennai. They began their protests at the entrance during lunch hour, and then began wearing black badges to work for about 15 days.

Now, they are once again raising slogans at the entrance of the factory. Srinivasan also said that the workers are planning a one-day hunger strike in two weeks if the management does not fulfil their demands.

They are protesting for seven key demands. They want the new, more transparent, promotion policy to be put in place, they want their wages to be commensurate to the production at the unit, a medical insurance policy that can be availed in any hospital, appointment of more permanent workers in existing vacancies, subsidised canteen for workers, and they want a better voluntary retirement scheme.

The management has not addressed any of their demands as yet. Pramil Kumar Tuli, a management official, refused to comment and denied that the workers were protesting. A factory canteen employee claimed that the canteen issue was central to the strike.

Srinivasan said that the Chennai Bakery Unit is the most profitable of the units in India of Modern Bread, and that the workers here must be compensated in accordance to the quantum of production the plant is undertaking.

The meal coupons cost Rs.30 and snack coupons cost around Rs.20, which is same as the market rate for the amount of food they get. All this cost is deducted from the workers’ wages.

Mr. Stephen, Joint Secretary of the union said that the canteen cost was higher than in other units of HUL. He also said that since he joined in 1998 the total value of production at the unit went up almost two and half times, but the number of employees has reduced drastically.

Now, about 250-300 workers are employed in the factory, of which only about 50 are regular employees, the rest are on contract. The workers employed on contract are largely migrants from states in north India and from Kerala.

The workers who participate in the strike are mainly the permanent workers, while only a few of the contract workers are participating in the strike so far. The main reason, Mr Stephen said, is that the contract workers are expecting ex-gratia payments from the management by December this year.


 Reported by Abhishek Shaw, Vijayakumar Pitchiah and photos by Aditya Harikrishna

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