The workers of a few companies in the Ambattur Industrial Estate have been paid full wages for the month of April—with the help of Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU). When the incidents of laying off workers and wage cuts are being widely reported in other places, the CITU has ensured protection of the rights of these workers.
The total lockdown has stopped the functioning of the industries here for more than 40 days. After the twin setbacks of the demonetisation and the hasty implementation of Goods and Sales Tax (GST), the Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSME) await relief package from the union and state governments.
The majority of the industries including a large number of MSMEs remained closed till May 3 owing to the nationwide lockdown. The companies have been permitted to function now, with conditions laid based on the location of the companies. Most of these units had refused to pay wages to the workers citing lack of income even after the Ministry of Labour issued a notification against wage cuts and retrenchments.
Lenin Sundar, joint secretary of North Chennai CITU, said, “CITU has ensured that the wages are paid to the workers without any cuts for the month of April. We have also prevented retrenchment of workers in all the companies where CITU is active.”
“Many essential service companies, including pharma companies functioned during the lockdown as well. The CITU guaranteed that the workers are paid for their conveyance and other allowances as the organisations halted transport facilities for the workers. Also, we urged the organisations to check the temperature of the workers everyday and organise periodical medical check ups to ensure their wellbeing,” Lenin added.
The trade unions, particularly the Left trade unions have demanded relief for workers who have lost their jobs due to the lockdown. Many companies including multinationals have taken advantage of the lockdown to retrench workers. “Those who have been retrenched must be paid relief by the government. The CITU had demanded Rs 7,500 for unmarried workers and Rs 10,000 for married workers for three months from April to survive the lockdown period,” Lenin said.
The status of the workers employed in the Special Economic Zones (SEZs) continues to be disastrous. Underpay, overwork and job insecurity have taken a toll on these workers. The repeated attempts of the trade unions to unionise the workers in SEZs have not frutified extensively.
The trade unions are also aware of the role to be played by the governments in providing a buffer to the MSMEs. They have also demanded special packages for the industrial estates in and around Chennai.
Lenin added, "The governments should ensure that the three important industrial estates, Ambattur, Thirumazhisai and Kakkalur are provided with stimulus packages very quickly. The survival of the MSMEs in the estates could be in danger if the government doesn't step in immediately.”
The companies have started production after relaxations, but the demand is not expected to surge anytime soon.
In 2018, the minister for industries had announced closure of around 50,000 MSMEs in the Tamil Nadu Assembly.
“The state and union governments continue to pursue pro-corporate policies which affect the MSMEs. This sector provides more employment to skilled and unskilled laborers and needs immediate attention from the government. The governments should announce immediate relief to this sector to save them and the lakhs of workers employed by them,” added Lenin.
The majority of the MSMEs were limping back to normalcy after they suffered severely due to demonetisation and GST. The present lockdown and the expected drop in demand is expected to affect the industry further.
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