More than 120 women workers of Unitex Exports in Ambattur Industrial Estate held a dharna outside their factory premises on 16th February to protest inaction by Government against Unitex Management which illegally locked out the factory and has not paid its employees salary dues and their provident fund. Leaders from all central trade unions including AITUC,INTUC, HMS, BMS, AICCTU and CITU among others supported the workers’ struggles by addressing the meeting in support of the workers. Workers are protesting the illegal and sudden closure of the garment factory which has been in operation since 1986. Workers are calling upon the labour administration and the government to intervene and ensure that the Unitex management is brought to justice and directed to immediately pay wages. The protest was organized after a failed attempt by Thiruvallur District Administrate which called for a tripartite meeting between the union members, administration and the factory owner. The Administration washed it hands off the affair by allegedly calling the factory owner as a fraud but stopped short of taking any action against the owner.
Unitex Exports which supplies to brands in Europe and US, closed down the factory without any prior intimation on 1st November 2011 and since then workers have been left without work and wages, uncertain of their future. The management of Unitex Exports has failed to come forward for any negotiation with the workers union at the conciliation proceedings before the Assistant Commissioner of Labour for the past month. Many of the workers have been working in the factory for more than 25 years on an average salary of Rs.3500 per month.
Moreover, the management had a not remitted Rs. 37 lakhs of the provident fund deducted from workers for the past three years. After concerted struggle by the workers, the Provident Fund Authority have finally taken notice and attached the property of the company. Workers have been facing other violations including arbitrary delays in the payment of wages, non provision of ESI cards, etc. Many workers who have resigned the company have also not received their gratuity and other dues.
On the day of the strike, the workers also found that the outer gate of the factory where the workers have been striking for last 3 months locked out. Its not clear who locked the factory and if this was legal given the attachment of the property of the comany by the Provident Fund Authority. The peaceful protest was disrupted continuously by the Police Department who also denied use of mike inspite of application for permission by the union.
All workers of Unitex Exports are members of the Garment and Fashions Workers Union (3317/CNI), an independent trade union of workers in the garment industry. The union organises women workers in Kanchipuram, Thiruvallur and Chennai districts and actively campaigns on fair living wage for workers in the garment industry, social security and right to organise. GAFWU is affiliated to the New Trade Union Initiative.