Chennai April 26th
Under a punishing summer sun, the workers of Sanmina SCI went on a one day hunger fast to draw the attention of the State government to their issues. As the mercury rose to 93 degrees (F), a worker collapsed with faint. Comrades of Hari, quickly brought him water and rushed him to a local hospital in an ambulance. The sweltering heat not withstanding, the workers continued on their fast to draw the state’s attention to their issues. The apathy of the management, and the impotence of the State government and Labour department to bring the management to the negotiating table has forced the workers, young men and women, to go on an strike. Their demands are simple and straight. A) raising their wages from a meager Rs 8000/- to a minimum of Rs 10000/-, a fair negotiated wage settlement that guarantees real wage does not fall due to inflation and a medical insurance for self and family B) revocation of Suspension and reinstatement of 8 comrades who tried to organize a union but were falsely charged for misbehavior, indiscipline etc. C) Recognition of their legally constituted Union.
Com. A Soundararajan, MLA and Hon. President of Sanmina SCI Workers Union, initiated the hunger fast and in his speech listed the demands of the workers clearly. He urged the workers to stand fast to their demands and not be cowed down by the intimidation by the companies. Highlighting the recently concluded wage agreement with Nokia, he maintained “Your rights will be protected only by a union that is able to raise your issues beyond the factory gates at the state and central government. Do not give up this fight lightly, we will continue this struggle until our demands are met in full.” He promised to take up the issue when the labour departments ‘Demand for Grants’ comes up before the legislature. Leaders of Hyundai workers union, Foxconn and GKM unions were also present in support of the strike. CITU Kanchepuram District Secretary Com Kannan and North Chennai Secretary Com AG Kasinathan were also present and addressed the workers. The leaders of fraternal unions related their own struggles and encouraged the workers of Sanmina SCI to stand strong for their rights.
The workers of Sanmina SCI, a Multinational Company based in USA, have been fighting the poor wage rates and work conditions at the Chennai plant for over 2 years. While the starting salary averaged Rs 6000/- even after five years the present salary remains around Rs 8000/-. The struggle for reasonable wage began in 2010 when the management raised the salary by a paltry 120/- to 180/-. “It was then that we thought we should start a union to address our issues. But immediately the management took action and dismissed four workers, who were later provided a settlement and forced to quit. But we continued the struggle” said Karnan.
Out of the 550 workers, women only constitute about 100 workers, but they are involved in hazardous tasks like soldering that releases noxious gases. They are also forced to work overtime and employed in all shifts including night shifts. “We don’t even have a separate resting place if we fall sick or have some trouble. Our supervisors are also quick to call us back to work, not even 10 mins of time is given” said M Sudha. Their present struggle though is geared towards a reasonable wage that protects them and their family from spiraling prices. “I have to support a family of five and with raising prices a minimum of Rs 10000 is a modest wage. I was given an increment of a mere Rs 160/- as increment. It is insane, our families don’t even get medical insurance that is provided for workers in other companies. We are not covered by ESI” said N Ezhilarasi adding that their struggle will continue until a proper wage agreement with their union is settled.
Balajee, the treasurer of the Union, is one of the 8 employees currently under suspension for indiscipline and intimidation. Sanmina SCI suspended 8 employees last year allegedly for various counts of indiscipline, unsafe work practice and even extortion. “They wanted to throw us out for organizing the union. They thought that if we were sent out the union would collapse. I was charged with extortion and intimidation of workers. It is over 1 year since my suspension but they have not even been able to produce the person who has charged me. The alleged employee is not on rolls with the company, yet for the last two months the enquiry has not been continued. This suspension is causing serious financial and social problems. Family members are getting anxious though I have committed no wrong”. The workers are very clear that their comrades including their union secretary Sasikumar have to reinstated and all the false charges quashed.
The president of the union , Manikandan maintained that they have raised the issue of wages with the management for the past 2 years and when they refused to recognize the union and take unilateral decisions the workers were forced to go on an indefinite strike which is in its 9th day. He also added that the labour department has been unable to get the management to come to the negotiating table. “We had to gherao the labour department and pressure them to act. Now it has given summons to the company to appear without fail. Let us see what happens if it not satisfactory we will be forced to go on an indefinite hunger strike” he said.
The one day hunger fast was concluded by Com. V Sukumaran, Gen.Sec CITU (Tamilnadu). The workers resolved to continue their struggle and strike work until the management relents to their demands. Our demands are modest, our rights are inalienable we will not compromise was the spirited words of the workers.