As many as 166 employees who have been working across 43 branches of Muthoot Finance were terminated without being served any notice. On December 7, the management served termination letters to 166 employees. Along with this, the management has also informed that the 43 branches would be closed down.
However, the Muthoot Finance Employees Union (MFEU), the union which had led a 52-day long strike from August 20, has stated that the terminations are illegal and unilateral. Around 2,000 employees out of a total strength of 3,000 employees had participated in the strike.
Though the 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 latest termination notices are nothing but an attempt to victimise the protesting workers.
On October 10, the Kerala High Court had convened the conciliation meetings between the Muthoot Finance management and the Centre of India Trade Unions (CITU)-backed employees’ union – Non-Banking and Private Finance Employees Association (NBPFEA). During the meeting, the Muthoot management had agreed to the demands of the workers for a hike in salary and also recognised the demand for the formulation of union.
As the management has breached the assurances, it is clearly a violation of the tripartite agreement and it is not only questioning the trade unions, but also the judiciary and state government, the union said.
“It is clearly victimisation and targetting the employees who had led the protest,” Thomas KJ of MFEU told NewsClick.
Read more: Muthoot Finance Workers’ Strike Successful, Management Recognises Workers’ Union
Meanwhile, the management has said that the financial crisis has led to the closure of these 43 branches. Contrary to the management’s claims, the employees said that the profit and loss account for the financial year 2018-2019 has shown a net profit of Rs 2,103 crore. Also, the company has not taken any permission from the government before closing down the branches. “Closure without notice to the government and permission from the government is illegal,” reads a letter addressed to the managing director of the company from one of the terminated employees.
Earlier, the employees union, which had expected such a move by the management, approached the labour department and submitted a letter. The union had also submitted a letter to the management. Though the labour commissioner had convened a meeting on November 25, the management representatives had not attended the meeting. Another meeting was scheduled for December 11, but the management has unilaterally terminated the employees before the meeting.
Thomas pointed out that during the strike period itself – from August 20, 2019 to October 10, 2019 – the management had threatened closure of 43 branches across Kerala where the leadership of the employees union were working and they had published the list of those branches in newspapers.
“Now, they have closed the same branches violating the terms of the Tripartrite Agreement dated October 10, 2019, and the directions of the High Court of Kerala. The management has decided to close down 43 branches which have a total workforce of 166 employees. Of these, 126 are union members, including State Secretary Nisha K Jayan and State Treasurer Sarath K Babu, several State Committee Members of the union and many active frontline workers of the union,” Thomas said.
“We cannot pass orders on any anticipated hostilities, but could always caution both parties from a resumption of a like controversy; after the initial bonhomie, of the agreement entered into, settles down. (sic) In any event, a tripartite agreement has been entered into, which has been made a part of the record of this court and we would only exhort both parties to introspect before resuming, either harassment or victimisation of employees or violent strike against the employer... The management too, has to realise that without the employees the organisation cannot be carried forward or business and profit generated. When the management considers the institution to be their own baby; do consider the employees also to be progeny of the institution,” reads the October 14, 2019, judgement of the Kerala High Court.
The union has, however, decided to protest till the management revokes the termination order. On December 10, the employees are going to demonstrate in front of the head office of the company. Again from December 11, the employees will extend their protest to the regional offices in Kozhikode and Thiruvananthapuram.
The demands of the union include implementation of minimum wages; implementation of service weighage as envisaged by the law; publishing of standing order as per the trade union agreement; release the benefits of the employees including statutory bonus, annual increment, monetary benefits, and stop the victimisation and cancel the termination order.
The union has also called for an indefinite strike from January 2, 2020.
Read more: Victimisation, Media Trial and Struggle of Muthoot Finance Employees