Tamil Nadu Labour Unrest: Industries Concerned Over State Government Inaction
Striking workers in Tamil Nadu are causing a worry among the state’s industry and business houses.
The Tamil Nadu government hasn’t come out to resolve the issue in the manner that it should.
The industrial hub of Sriperumbudur in Tamil Nadu’s Kanchipuram district, especially Oragadam industrial estate and its surroundings, looks calm and serene when one drives around the area. But that is deceptive. Deep inside the area, as also among workers there, signs of restlessness are palpable.
For over a month and a half now, this satellite industrial township is witnessing labour unrest that has left industries and businesses concerned. It all started with problems at India Yamaha at Vallam when two of its workers were dismissed without proper enquiry or notice.
“The two workers – Rajamanickam and Prakash – tried to form a union, which the management didn’t like. So, their services were terminated. We have problems at the factory. Our rights are being trampled. More importantly, we are not being treated properly. That’s why we wanted to form the union and took a decision on 29 July. When the two were terminated, we took to the streets and struck work,” says an employee who doesn’t want to be identified.
These employees give their names when you meet them in person, but then request you to not quote them. “The management is taking action or could retaliate against those who speak to the press,” says another employee, surrounded by his colleagues, who are on strike some 200 metres away from Yamaha’s plant.
“Our main demand is to reinstate the two. Second, we are asking for humane treatment from the management,” says another employee at the site where the workers are staging a sit-in.
A couple of persons who are not employees of Yamaha say that the number of workers staging the sit-in is dropping. “More number of workers who are on strike have reported back to work,” says a Yamaha source on the condition of anonymity.
Workers at Yamaha say they are being treated badly even when they seek leave. One employee went on urgent leave after his father died. He resumed work after performing the last rites of his father, and when he sought leave for the ceremonies that are held two weeks after a person’s death, the management is said to have asked him why he took a week’s leave soon after his father’s death.
“Right from the time we get into the bus for work until we return home, we are not being treated properly. We have to bear this for our family’s sake,” say the striking employees in a chorus.
A Yamaha spokesperson said he would not be willing to respond to the allegation as the company has filed a detailed petition in the Madras High Court, adding that whatever the company has to say it has told the court.
Yamaha workers draw monthly salaries ranging between Rs 12,000 and Rs 19,000. “A year ago, our salaries were increased significantly to match the recommendations of the central wage panel, which wanted the minimum salary for government servants to be raised. Otherwise, our increments are paltry. One of these years, we got Rs 70 as increment. Our take-home pay is around Rs 14,000 only,” says an employee.
“The management doesn’t want an organised union. It wants only leaders who go by their diktats. When a management is prepared to work out its costs for raw materials and other inputs and meet the expenses, why is it not treating workers welfare the same way?” wonder S Kannan.
“The management says it has invested crores and wants to have its way. When we question it, the management says the factory will be shut. How can they simply shut like that after having invested so much?” asks Kannan.
The local labour officer has called all the concerned persons for conciliation talks that made some progress on 9 November. The Yamaha management sought time, and another meeting is scheduled on 14 November.
Yamaha has 4,000 employees working at the Vallam facility, which produces Fascino, RayZ, RayZR, and export market scooters besides its FTZ motorcycle. The unit has a capacity to produce six lakh scooters a year. According to the workers, they produce nearly 2,000 scooters a day, which has come down to 800 during the strike. The striking permanent blue-collared workers, most of whom have studied automobile courses as diploma at polytechnics or as certificate course in Industrial Training Institutes, number 800. The manufacturing is now being done by management engineers with the help of apprentices and trainees, workers allege.
The case of Eicher’s Royal Enfield plant at Oragadam is a little different. The problem arose with a strike call given by Royal Enfield Employees Union on 24 September demanding the reinstatement of 120 probationary employees and a permanent employee besides seeking bonus from 2015.
“We ended our strike a couple of days later. But when we tried to report for work on 1 October, the management asked the workers to give an undertaking that they will not take part in union activities. Since then, the strike has continued,” says N Sampath, vice president of the union that is part of Working People Trade Union Council.
The strike has been subsequently called off from Tuesday (13 November) following tripartite talks between the union, management, and district administration. But an issue seems to be simmering still – the management says it would hire workers on fixed term employment (FTE) or under National Employability Enhancement Scheme. The workers see this as a move denying them job security.
“We were willing to go, but the management stopped us,” says Sampath. One of the issues that led to the standoff was the management’s order to restrict workers from carrying mobiles into the factory. The workers were asked to leave their mobiles with the security, which the union did not agree to.
The union had over 700 employees of the unit as its members. Sampath said over 600 employees had taken part in the strike, affecting production. The facility rolls out 1,700 vehicles a day, and during the strike it was reduced to less than 800. A media report said Enfield produced 28,000 vehicles less during the strike period in September and October.
An industry watcher said the automobile units are facing problems as the Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU) is trying to gain an entry into these industrial units. A similar strike broke out in Hyundai in 2008 that led to the formation of a workers union in 2011. A similar workers union has also been formed at Nissan Renault facility near the Enfield Oragadam factory.
A worker at one of the industrial units says that problems at Yamaha and Enfield came out in the open because of the workers’ strength. In other units, such a display of strength was lacking. But for that, issues at other units could also come to the fore. There are problems at a couple of other units too, but as of now, they are under control.
Industry and business houses are, however, concerned. Their concern is more on Tamil Nadu government’s inaction. “The Tamil Nadu Government is holding a global investors meet next year. In such circumstances, strikes at important units like Yamaha or Enfield are not good. What will a prospective investor think of such strikes? The state government has not made any effort to intervene and end the problem smoothly,” says an industrial representative.
It is likely that the Yamaha and Enfield problems could see a solution by this week, but the concerns that these issues have raised will remain. The Tamil Nadu government will have to look at these issues and make efforts for smooth functioning of industrial units.
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