Marginal Wage Increase; 85 Suspensions revoked
After a sustained strike spanning 66 days, the Sanmina SCI workers ended their strike on 25th January 2018. The strike came to an end after an agreement was reached between representatives of the striking workers,the company management and officials from the Labour Department. The five workers, Nithyanadam, Thyagarajan, Gunaseelan, Suresh and Sarathi. who had earlier started an indefinite hunger fast on 20th January, broke their hunger fast on the acceptance of the agreement by the workers.
The company has agreed to
- Improve their wage increase offer by Rs 306/- taking the overall increase to Rs 3570/-.
- Revoked the suspensions of 85 workers even as the domestic enquiry will continue.
Another 5 workers, including three women employees would remain under suspension for a month by which time the company has promised to close the enquiry. During the process of enquiry, they will receive full wage.
d. On the issue of 21 day wage cut (http://tnlabour.in/automobile-industry/5120) for a previous shop floor action, the company has merely agreed to abide by the orders of the DCL (payment of wages) which is hearing the case.
e. The company has refused to pay wage for the strike period. Though the union was asked to consent to this, the union has refused to do so and plans to raise a separate dispute as the strike was carried out according to the provisions of the Industrial Dispute Act.
The wages will rise to Rs 14500/- to Rs 18000/- depending on work experience for the permanent workers. Even though the company has not categorically agreed to any of their demands (http://tnlabour.in/factory-workers/6066 ), the successful strike by the workers has forced the company to review its intransigent position and engage with the workers as a collective union. The workers also felicitated Mr Ponraj, who had given them space to conduct their protest. Ponraj, a farmer, had withstood police threats for offering his ground to the workers during the entire strike.
While the agreement with the management was reached late night on 24th Jan, the workers were informed of the various clauses of the agreement on 25th and the ‘advise note’ issued by the ACL which forms the basis for the agreement was read out to the workers . Adv Barathifrom AICCTU, who was leading the struggle for workers, said that the struggle was for ‘dignity’ more than wage and having forced the management to negotiate with them as union, he felt that they have been able to show their strength and unity. “It was important to force the management to engage us as a collective body and to come to decisions regarding wages and working conditions on the basis of mutual discussion. But the company refused to treat us that way. Even when it decided to rise its initial increment from Rs 2500 to Rs 3264, it did not consult with the workers. We have forced them to change this. The company officials said that they wont renegotiate a single rupee more, but we have forced them to increase it by Rs 306. The rise might be meager but it symbolizes our dignity” he said in his address to the workers on 25th.
The 66 day strike was a landmark struggle in the Oragadum – Sriperumbudur region in the recent past. Throughout the strike period, the participation and motivation of the permanent workers remained very high. Rather than merely engage the company through the Labour Department, the workers organized frequent gate meetings, raised strike fund from workers and public in the region, and campaigned across Chennai to highlight their demands. Intensifying their struggle, they blockaded the Head Office of the Labour Department in Chennai(http://tnlabour.in/factory-workers/5802). At a peak point of their struggle, the workers protested at the gates of the US Consulate in Chennai, a high security zone. Sanmina being a US based MNC, they demanded US Government to take cognizance of the poor labour practices. This action and the threat of escalation forced the State Government to review the issue leading to a meeting with Deputy Chief Minister of Tamilnadu.
Even though the class bias of the government restrained the government from providing complete justice to the workers, the Government (forced clearly by the action of the workers) forced the Labour Department to actively arbitrate the issue rather than file a ‘failure (of conciliation talks) report’. A ‘failure report’ would have only led to a continuation of the strike as the case heads to the labour court. The workers also began an indefinite hunger strike on the 20th of January. With the workers remaining steadfast on their strike , the pressure by the Government agencies forced the company to come to the negotiations and settle the issue. The workers consider this a major achievement of this strike as this has led to a de-facto recognition of the union.
To further consolidate their position, the workers also sought an off day on 31st of Jan (http://tnlabour.in/news/6392 ) to let them participate in a workers’ rally. The company agreed to let them off duty, provided they compensate the work day by working on a holiday doing over time. While this points to an implicit acceptance of the union, they have absented themselves to the conciliation talks on 30th January at the DCL office on the case pertaining to the 21 day wage cut, exposing their delaying tactics. While it will take more time before an assessment of the gains made by workers, material and politically from the strike action, it is clear that the strike and its execution has been a resound success in terms of participation, show of unity and resoluteness of the workers.
But major challenges lies ahead. There remains the danger that the company might shift production to contract workers. The contract workers who number in the hundreds continue to be paid less than Rs 10000/-. They are also not offered the perks to which the permanent workers are eligible. The widening gap in the wage can create a growing wedge between the contract workers and the permanent workers as in the case of many automotive industries. There is also a internal union with close ties to the management. It is important that the permanent workers are able to grow past such divisions and work to their best interests. It is also important to successfully conclude the enquiries without significant costs on the workers and ensuring prevention of further acts of victimization against union leaders.