The ongoing tussle between the Muthoot Finance Employees’ Union (MFEU) and the management intensified on Tuesday, September 3, when hundreds of supporters from both the end came face to face in front of Muthoot Finance’s State Head Office in Ernakulam. Numerous hands were raised as the union members chanted slogans, demanding the Muthoot Finance’s management to recognise the MFEU and formulate a salary structure, among other things.
The union had earlier decided to stage a demonstration in front of the head office to reiterate their demands and address the media. The objective was to clear the air over the “false claims” that were made by the Muthoot Finance’s Managing Director George Alexander Muthoot in his internal message, which was followed by scores of media reports, initiating a media trial against the trade union.
“However, the situation got tensed as when the management also called people in hundreds of numbers, who started counter-sloganeering,” said Thomas K J, State Vice President of MFEU, adding, “Most of them were not even Muthoot Finance employees and were just there to demoralise our union members.”
Also read: Victimisation, Media Trial and Struggle of Muthoot Finance Employees
“This is a clear tactic of the management to divide and rule the employees of Muthoot Finance and present a false image of the strike of the union,” he added.
Management Attempting To Delegitimise Employees’ Struggle
The indefinite strike which was started on August 20 has entered its 15th day on Tuesday. According to the union members, around 2,000 employees out of Muthoot’s total workforce of 3,000 in the state have been protesting. This is against the claims made by the management, in an attempt to delegitimise the employees’ struggle, that only a “minority” are observing the strike under the banner of a Centre of Indian Trade Union (CITU) – affiliated union.
Considering the gravity of the issue, a meeting is to be held on Wednesday between the representatives of both the management and the union in the presence of state’s Labour Minister T P Ramakrishnan.
However, according to Thomas, they are not having any high hope from this meeting as the experience of such meetings in the past have shown the callous attitude of the management in initiating any dialogue with the union members.
“Why should we attend [Wednesday meeting] when none of my employees are even members of the association,” The New Indian Express quoted Babu John, DGM Communication of Muthoot Finance as saying.
NewsClick tried contacting him but the calls went unanswered. The story will be updated after receiving his response.
As it was reported earlier, the union has proposed to conduct a secret ballot referendum to “clear any doubts regarding the strength of the MFEU”, however, it was declined by the management.
Another strategy used by the management, according to the protesting employees, is to give the strike a political colour, something that aims to create differences among the union members based on their political affiliations.
In response to that Thomas said that they are fighting for the labour rights of the employees and not to appease any political party, adding that MFEU has members who have subscribed to different ideologies, however, they are united under a single banner to safeguard their rights as an employee.
Terror Tactics Being Used By the Management, Not CITU
The media narrative surrounding the strike of the Muthoot Finance employees have clearly taken hold of the views propagated by the management. In one of such reports, it was also reported that it is due to the trouble and “terror tactics” used by the CITU that has forced Muthoot Finance to exit Kerala.
Also read: ‘Wrote 80 Letters to Management...Tired of Not Being Heard’, Say EPF Employees
Responding to these allegations, the protesting employees told NewsClick, that it was the management which attempted to create a sense of fear among the employees with its statement of shutting down the branches by September 2, resulting in the retrenchment of the employees.
“Such statements also go against the Indian laws that prohibits practice of termination to be used as a punishment against an employee,” said Thomas.
Thomas was referring to Section 2 (oo) of the Industrial Disputes Act, 1947, that defines retrenchment as “the termination by the employer of the service of a workman for any reason whatsoever, otherwise than as a punishment inflicted by way of disciplinary action.”
In another news, it was also reported that Muthoot Finance has appointed a chartered accountant to find buyers for its gold loan portfolios in some of their branches in the state followed by an advertisement to attract the interested buyers.
“Such advertisements must not be taken seriously,” said Thomas, “This is yet another tactic used by the management to break the strike, which has till now shown extraordinary unity and strength.”