(Pon Vasanth Arunachalam and Arindam Majumder, Asian College of Journalism)
“Gymkhana workers wish its members a very Happy New Year”- the huge banner at the gate of the Madras Gymkhana Club is hard to miss! But for the 210 workers of the club, 2014 has been far from happy. Their strike demanding an increment of wage and a year-end bonus has entered the 58 by 31 January. The workers have not received their salary for December and January.
N.James, Vice President of the Madras Gymkhana Club Staff and Worker’s Union said that the contracts of the workers are to be renewed every three years and new wage levels negotiated through collective bargaining. But there has been no hike in their wages since last two years. “The last contract expired on 31 November, 2011; since a case was pending against the committee, we were told that the contract will be renewed after the case is settled,” he said. “When the new committee took charge, we were promised that our demands will be met soon, but no action followed,” said N.James.
Two months ago when two office-bearers of the union went on a hunger strike for two days, Labour Department, Govt. of Tamil Nadu intervened and the management of the club was asked to reach a solution. But the management did not respond. After repeated unsuccessful appeals, the workers started an indefinite strike on 5 December, 2013. “A 14 day deadline was given to the management but there was no reply from their side,” he said. On 14 December, 2013 the workers and their family members protested against the management.
He added that though the members of the club have increased, the number of workers have reduced from 360 to 210.
On 30 January, a member of the Madras Gymkhana Club has been appointed to hold talks with the workers. Though one round of talks has taken place, there has been no communication from the management.
Meanwhile, though the workers are facing an uncertain future due to non-payment of salary, they are ready to continue their struggle. K.Papaiya, a worker at the club said “Even after 30 years of service, I receive a salary of Rs 9,000 per month; we will stand by the union and support this strike till our demands are fulfilled.”
The Gymkhana Club management was not available for comments.