Following the illegal termination of 166 workers who have been working with the Muthoot Finance, employees have started an indefinite strike on January 2. On December 7, the management had terminated as many as 166 employees without even serving a notice and had also declared that 43 branches would be closed down.
Employees from 564 branches including the head office in Kochi are taking part in the strike which is being organised under the banner of Non Banking and Private Finance Association (NBPFA) of which Muthoot Finance Employees union (MFEU) is a part. NBPFA and MFEU are associated with the Centre for Indian Trade Unions (CITU).
The employees say that the illegal termination was a revenge by the management as the employees had staged a 52-day strike from August 20 last year. Almost 2,000 employees—of total 3,000 from various branches in the state—were part of this historic strike.
“Almost all the branches of Muthoot including the regional offices were closed on the first day of the indefinite strike. But the head office was given police protection. The management obtained an order from the High Court and order stated that the protesters should be 15 metre away from the office,” Thomas KJ of MFEU told NewsClick.
“So, when the protesters sat over there in front of the head office in Kochi as part of the indefinite strike, the police arrested them including the state vice president of CITU CK Manisankaran,” Thomas said.
Though the police protection was only meant for the head office, certain other branches were also reportedly given protection. In those places, including the Palarivattom branch in Ernakulam district, the respective branch “managers ‘obtained’ protection from the local police and the police had forcefully removed the protesters from the sites.”
Read More: Muthoot Finance Fires 166 Employees Including Union Members
According to Thomas and employees of Muthoot, the protesting employees had reached their own branches before 8 am. Though the branches open at 9 am every day, the protesters had foreseen the possibility of that happening sooner in order to fool the protesting employees. In some places, the representatives of the management had come early in the morning to open the office, but they could not succeed as the protesting workers were there before them.
The union and employees see the actions of management as a vindictive step. Earlier, during the strike, the management had declared that they would destroy the CITU’s union. Addressing CITU, George Alexander, the managing director of the Muthoot Group, had said in a statement, “We are in a position to rid this cancer from our organisation.”
Muthoot Chairman MG George also said earlier that the company was not willing to recognise CITU-backed employees’ union as a valid union.
“It’s our constitutional right to unionise. Every trade union has its own politics. We, the Muthoot Finance Employees Union, have decided to align with the politics and polities of CITU. It is because of their integrity, vigour and vitality and they have a history of fighting for the rights of the workers. And the management says that they would destroy the CITU-affiliated union,” Thomas said.
Also, the termination of 166 employees is a direct violation of tripartite meeting that was held on October 10. Though the Muthoot management had assured—following intervention of the Kerala High Court—that no disciplinary action would be taken against the employees who led the protest, the protesting employees were targeted.
Read More: Victimisation, Media Trial and Struggle of Muthoot Finance Employees
The employees have been challenging the management legally as well and they have approached the labour commissioner. Meanwhile, Section 33A of Industrial Dispute Action, 1947 says that the management is not allowed to make any changes to service conditions, promotion, demotion, punishment, transfer, etc. if a case is pending before the conciliation officer.
The Muthoot management, however, has violated the Industrial Dispute Act with the termination.
“We have filed a complaint with the Labour Department regarding this violation,” Thomas added.
Even after serving the indefinite strike notice, there were four conciliation meetings. The union says that the management had turned up only for two meetings.
“For initial two meetings, nobody was there from the management.”
Earlier, in an order, Kerala High Court had stated that a company will not be eligible for police protection if they fail to attend the conciliation meetings. The order was given when the Berger Paints had sought police protection during a strike.
“So, here, when the management did not attend the initial two meetings, our advocate had filed a counter case regarding this saying that the company had not been attending meetings and so, the protection should be removed. After that, the management had come for the third meeting. In the fourth meeting, chaired by minister, though the minister had directed that the MD or chairman of the company should attend the meeting, they hadn’t come,” concluded Thomas.
Read More: This Is A Fight for Our Labour Rights, Say Striking Employees of Muthoot Finance