Workers of a company that manufactures rubber products at the industrial complex in Majrakath village in Rajasthan’s Neemrana, who have been protesting and demanding wages for the lockdown period, now face mass retrenchment.
The contract workers, around 200 in number, were employed through a third-party agency at the company, Tokai Imperial Rubber India Private Limited. They alleged that the management has refused to clear their salary for the month of May. When they protested, as many as 150 workers found that the company gates were closed for them.
The workers sat on a demonstration for two days – June 9 and June 10 – outside the factory premises, against what they called “illegal” termination, and demanded their pending wages. The matter has now reached the labour department, which is scheduled to meet on June 17.
NewsClick reached out to the local labour department’s conciliation officer, Kamal Singh, who agreed that the non-payment of wages is in violation of the March 29 notification issued by Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA). However, he said that no action can be taken against the employer as yet, due to a recent Supreme Court judgement.
The MHA notification, which mandated that companies pay their workers in full during the lockdown period, was in force for a period of 54 days. It was then withdrawn on May 18. On June 4, the Supreme Court, while hearing petitions challenging the constitutionality of the notification, had ordered that no coercive action could be taken against employers.
“Complaints over non-payment of wages have increased for the month of April and May (in the Neemrana industrial cluster). Since no action can be taken in such cases, we are trying to reach a mutual understanding between the workers and the employers,” Singh told NewsClick, adding that a similar approach has been adopted in the complaint against Tokai Imperial Rubber’s management as well.
In its June 12 order, the apex court also batted for negotiations between establishments and workers in the matter of payments during the lockdown. The court’s directions on coercive action against employers has been set for the next hearing, scheduled for the last week of July.
“No industry can survive without the workers. Thus employers and employee need to negotiate and settle among themselves. If they are not able to settle it among themselves, they need to approach the concerned labour authorities to sort the issues out,” said Justice Ashok Bhushan, according to LiveLaw.
Anurag Saxena, general secretary of Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU), said that while it was “welcoming” of the Supreme Court’s refusal to honour the ‘no work, no pay’ principle, however, by saying that the matter would be decided through negotiations, the court “has not benefitted the unorganised workers – who are the majority in the country,” he said.
“Those who are unionised will be able to settle the issue; but others, including contractual staff, temporary workers and daily wagers will be disadvantaged since they are not collectivised,” he added.
Shyam, of the Automobile Industry Contract Workers Union (AICWU) said that such negotiations are not a practical solution for workers, let alone the contractual staff among them, as is the case of Tokai Imperial.
“We are witnessing the brunt of the lockdown being passing onto the workers across the country – who, in most cases, are already in vulnerable positions; engaged in production with no job security,” he said.
What was needed was that the government came forward to ensure payment of wages of all workers – permanent and contractual – for the lockdown period, Shyam added.
CITU’s Saxena informed Newsclick that district units of the central trade union are helping such workers to approach the labour department and lodge a complaint against the establishment in cases of pending dues for the lockdown period. “We are of the opinion that even if full salary is not paid for the lockdown period to a worker, at least half of the monthly payment must be made – it is a matter of their livelihood,” he said.
Meanwhile, Tokai Imperial in Neemrana has already replaced the retrenched workers with others, who have been employed through a similar mechanism, NewsClick has learnt. The move is an example of the rampant contractualisation that prevails in one of the country’s oldest auto clusters.
“The company has refused to bear any responsibility since it says that the workers were not employed directly by it – but through contractors,” said 23-year-old Saurav Kumar, one of the retrenched workers. He added that the “contractor says he will not take us back since we had protested.”
The company’s workforce is a mix of locals and migrant labourers from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, each of whom earned a meagre monthly wage of Rs. 7,600 before the nationwide lockdown, which had resulted in the factory shutting shop temporarily.
Alleging that some of the workers have not even received their wages for the month of April, Kumar said that “only we know how we survived for all these days.”
Kumar, who has had his name registered in the rural employment generation scheme, seemed reconciled to the fact that all those who have been terminated will have to look for another job. “We know this because it is what happens to every other worker in Neemrana. However, we will fight, at least for our wages,” he added.