GAFWU and PTS workers demonstration
Demanding a just wage that reflects the present day consumption needs and demanding immediate enrollment into the Employees State Insurance Scheme, women workers under the joint banner of Garment and Fashion Workers Union (GAFWU) and Penn Thozhillalar Sangam (PTS) went on a demonstration in Thiruporur, Chennai on 13th August 2013
The workers mostly working in the Garment factories in Tambaram (MEPZ), Mahindra City SEZ, and surrounding areas came together to urge the Labour department to give force to the ESI scheme by hasting the process of enrolling the workers. Mahindra City, falling within Chengalpat Taluk of Kanchepuram district was recently (June 2013) brought under the cover of ESI Scheme. PTS and GAFWU have been demanding the inclusion of the SEZ since 2009. This demonstration was a partly to celebrate this inclusion while also creating enough awareness among the workers about the development.
Urging the workers to gather strength for the struggles ahead, the president of GAFWU, Com. Sujatha Mody pointed out the severe lack of implementing basic acts protecting workers wages and social security. Ridiculing the low rates of wage prescribed by the minimum wages act, she demanded that a fair wage will have to secure a minimum of Rs 10000/- a month. Citing from earlier episodes she said that managements often embezzle workers provident fund and do not put in their share of the contribution and nobody is monitoring them.
The demonstration put forward three clear demands
A) A fair minimum wage not less than Rs 10000/- a month
B) Implementation of the ESI scheme through speedy enrollment of workers
C) Implementation of the Vishaka Guidelines against Sexual Harassment at the work place
Com. Elizabeth Rani, a worker in a garment factory in MEPZ, while addressing the gathering recounted how when the workers had wanted a union to be recognized the management tried to sidestep by organizing workers committees into which handpicked members were nominated. When she along with others had demanded that others be nominated to the committees she was harassed by the management. Inspite of this, they through GAFWU, were able to increase the bonus to 20% from the 12% that was being offered before. She declared that neither the Human Resource managers nor the management constituted committees could do justice as they were all bound to the management.
Comrades from CITU district committee, Tamilnadu Construction workers Union, and independent activists also spoke in solidarity with the workers and their demands. Speaking to Thozillalar Koodam, Com. Selvam, district committee member of CITU said “we stand in support of workers without any distinction between organizations. The demands are just and we fully support the workers in their quest for a decent wage. When MPs and MLAs feel they need to increase their salaries why not the workers. But when we demand, we are greeted with police Lathis. We need to fight together against this injustice”
Sujatha Mody speaking to Thozillalar Koodum maintained that the initiative was entirely driven by the workers themselves and no central trade union or political party had initiated this struggle. She also added that while GAFWU has had successes in different factories, there was a need to take these issues as a state wide campaign and towards this endevour; GAFWU and PTS are going ahead with meetings across the three districts of Chennai, Kanchepuram and Thiruvallur in the coming weeks. They also plan to send over 5000 postcards to the State Labour minister advocating their demands.
The meeting closed to soulful rendering of working class songs and high pitched sloganeering.