The workers who lost their jobs in 2016 and 2018 due to the closure of Dongson and Foxconn held a relay hunger strike seeking re-employment from January 6. More than 1,300 workers lost their jobs due to the closure of these two companies.
The workers of Kishkinta amusement park joined the protest as the management continues to refuse jobs for 70 workers after the lockdown restrictions were relaxed in May 2020.
The management of Dongsong (formerly Dongson) had invited the workers for talks, while the other two organisations continued to evade the workers' demands. The Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU), which led the protest, has called upon the state government and labour welfare department to intervene to address the workers' concerns.
The workers were forced to withdraw the strike as the number of fresh COVID-19 infections in the state soared beyond 10,000 on January 8. The trade union and the workers allege the change in labour policies mooted by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)- led government since 2014 as the reason for the snatching away of rights of the workers.
'JOBLESS FOR YEARS'
The Kancheepuram plant of Dongsan Automotive India Private Limited (Dongsan), with 113 workers, was shut down on March 12, 2018. The company cited loss of business and, in an order, stated that 'the services of the workmen and staff of Dongsan have been terminated 'as if retrenched.'
The North Korean-headquartered company was started in India in 2006.
"I have been working with Dongsan since the company was founded and was retrenched in 2018. Since then, I have been jobless and rely on menial jobs to live," said a worker.
Around 30 workers have been re-employed in Dongsung, while the remaining are languishing for jobs. Four workers had suffered injuries and had amputated hands while in job and remain jobless.
CITU Kanchipuram district secretary E Muthukumar addressed the workers on day two of the relay hunger strike.
"The workers who were organised under the trade union have been denied jobs by the company. Most of the workers were drawing a wage of Rs 36,000/month after the intervention of CITU for better wages. The workers demand their jobs back since the company has started functioning under another name," S Kannan, deputy general secretary of Tamil Nadu unit of CITU, said.
The CITU has welcomed the decision of the management of the Dongsung to invite the workers for talks on January 10.
"Getting their jobs back is the only agenda of the workers. We expect the talks to be fruitful else we will kickstart the protest immediately," said E Muthukumar, Kanchipuram district secretary of the CITU.
'FOXCONN VIOLATING AGREEMENT'
Foxconn closed its operation in December 2014, following the shutdown of its biggest client Nokia. The 1,300 workers employed in the unit lost their jobs. The company started functioning in 2017 and manufactures smartphones of several brands.
"During the settlement for workers in February 2015, Foxconn had agreed to re-employ the workers once the company starts functioning again. Now, to shun responsibility, the company is operating under a different name," Kannan said.
A worker who lost the job in 2015 said, "The same functions are taking place in the same manufacturing plant in the special economic zone (SEZ), but with a different name. The company is cheating the 1,300 workers, while the successive state governments have refused to listen to our problem."
The workers point out the repeated offences of Foxconn, including the exploitation of workers leading to massive protests by thousands of women workers in December 2021.
"The company is refusing to execute the agreement signed with the state and the workers on re-employment. The company under the new name has employed around 10,000 workers, but 1,300 workers are awaiting jobs," Muthukumar said.
KISHKINTA WORKERS JOIN PROTEST
The Kishkinta amusement park is accused of denying jobs for 70 workers after the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic. "The company paid only two months' salary during the lockdown. Since then, the company has not paid any wages and continues to deny jobs for us", a woman worker who lost her job said.
The trade union points to the continuous dilution of the labour policies by the BJP-led union government, leading to the struggles of the workers. "The policy changes in the name of ease of doing business, abolition of permanent jobs, other schemes like NEEM and fixed-term employment are helping the corporates exploit the workers. The very minimum rights are denied now," Kannan said.
The workers decided to withdraw the protest, considering the surge in COVID-19 cases in the state.