Long-serving employees of the Indian Telephone Industries Limited (ITI) were shocked that they were not allowed to enter their workplace on Wednesday morning, leading them to stage a protest against the company. They were hired on a contractual basis in Bengaluru, which is the headquarters of the company.
ITI is a public sector undertaking (PSU) that manufactures telecom equipment and handles turnkey projects for the armed forces and various PSUs. It is also a publicly-traded entity.
The workers, some of whom have been working at ITI for as long as 30 years, decided to stage a peaceful protest at the company's gates, following which the police were called. The workers alleged that when the police arrived, the management told them that they were not ITI employees and should not be allowed inside. The fact that they are all contract employees is precisely what makes it so easy for ITI management to do this. The workers alleged various instances of irregularities and exploitation by the company.
They further alleged that the contract workers who were not in the union were allowed to enter the factory on Wednesday. The workers were told that their contractor had changed, and thus, they were no more ITI workers.
"In most places where there are contract workers, the working atmosphere is very hostile. Most contract employees are treated as second class workers in all establishments. Last year, the contract workers (at ITI) were forced to work throughout the lockdown and not given passes, due to which some of them were beaten by the police," said Clifton D' Rozario, National secretary, All India Central Council of Trade Unions (AICCTU). "In fact, they were not even paid wages for that period. Immediately after the lockdown was lifted, around 200 contract employees were terminated from service. This prompted them to start a union in 2020," Rozario claimed.
According to company filings, ITI Ltd. reported a profit after tax of Rs 147 crores in FY 20 And Rs 11 Crores in FY 21. Around 98% of their order book comprises PSUs, state governments and the Indian armed forces.
Around 120-130 contract employees joined the ITI union to protect themselves from the threat of termination. Last year, the union filed a complaint against ITI with the Regional Labour Commissioner. Their demands included regularisation of the long-serving contract employees and clearing of all the pending dues and arrears.
The Regional Labour Commissioner ordered ITI Ltd. to maintain the status quo under Section 33 of the Industrial Disputes Act, which states that conditions of employment must remain unchanged during the hearing of the dispute. However, the position taken by the management is that they are not ITI workers, and therefore, the company is not bound by Section 33. The onus is on the regional labour commissioner, K Anthony Sebastien, to take action against the management for violating his instructions on the status quo.
The workers at the factory did not wish to be identified by name. They said they had worked on sensitive projects, including projects for the army in Kashmir and the North East. They work in various departments, both technical and administrative. Since the workers are contractual, they do not have documents pertaining to their date of joining. Their contract is renewed periodically, but no paperwork is provided. Their payment is made through contractors who keep being changed on a regular basis. They are provided identification documents only when they are sent on projects to various sites around the country.
Some employees have been working at ITI for decades. There are largely three main tiers of employees - full time, tenured and contractual. Tenured workers are appointed for a period of five years. The workers alleged nepotism in the hiring process and spoke about the absence of Kannadigas or natives of the state within the organisation.
Calls to the ITI management went unanswered.