Ruchi Soya Industries Ltd, part of Baba Ramdev’s Patanjali Group, on Wednesday terminated a labour contract agreement, effectively laying off 92 workers in one of its units at Kakinada in Andhra Pradesh’s East Godavari district. The laid-off workers have been on strike for the last seven days demanding minimum wages, revision of wages and social security benefits, among other demands.
“It has been found that from July 9, 2020, your labours are not reported for work resulting in serious disruption of work. Even after multiple advises given to you by us to restore the work, you have failed to do so (sic),” said the termination letter by the factory manager of Ruchi Soya’s plant to Ch. Sudhakar Industrial Services, the manpower contractor at the oil mill.
For the last seven days, 92 contractual workers (under Sudhakar Industrial Services) of the 350 workers at the plant have been on strike demanding the release of pending bonuses for the last four years, increase in minimum wages, social security through Provident Fund, ESI benefits and implementation of labour laws at the unit. They have been protesting in front of the district collectorate and the oil mill unit.
“The termination of their contract is a brutal move against the workers and is in violation of labour laws,” said Chekkala Raj Kumar, East Godavari district general secretary of Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU).
“The workers were on the job even during the lockdown in the last three months as Ruchi Soya produced essential commodities like edible oil products,” said Raj Kumar, adding that the trade union will support the workers till the management gives them back their jobs and accepts their demands.
“They hoped for a revision of wages after the Patanjali group acquired Ruchi Soya but since there has been no sign of relief, they had to agitate for their rights. The CITU has submitted representations to the district collector and joint commissioner of labour, urging the authorities to resolve the workers’ grievances,” he told NewsClick.
Raj Kumar said that the workers were being paid between Rs 250 and Rs 311 per day. However, he said, semi skilled workers at the production unit of an oil mill must be paid Rs 450 per day, as per a state government order.
In December 2019, Patanjali Ayurved Ltd acquired Ruchi Soya at Rs 4,350 crore through insolvency, while Ruchi Soya’s lenders, including public sector banks, took a substantial hair cut of 65% as the company’s outstanding dues were Rs 12,100 crore. The Patanjali group struggled to raise funds for the acquisition. However, the firm reportedly made profits in the last six months despite the pandemic outbreak and a lockdown.
While terminating the manpower contract, the management at Ruchi Soya cited an agreement between the contractor and the plant signed in April, during the lockdown.