Employees of Muthoot Finance Ltd. on Wednesday staged a demonstration across Kerala after the company management failed to attend the conciliation meeting on Tuesday, which had been convened in the presence of a mediator appointed by the Kerala High Court. The employees, under the banner of Muthoot Finance Employees Union (MFEU), protested in front of all district offices and the head office. The protests were against anti-worker policies of the management and the illegal termination of 164 employees. The protesting employees adhered to government guidelines on physical distancing in light of COVID-19.
On December 7, 2019, the management had terminated as many as 164 employees without even serving them a notice and had also declared that 43 branches across Kerala would be closed down. Following this, on January 2, 2020, employees from 568 branches, including the head office in Kochi, began an indefinite strike organised under the banner of the Non-Banking and Private Finance Association (NBPFA), of which MFEU is a part. NBPFA and MFEU are associated with the Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU).
On June 23, the conciliation meeting, which was attended by the state’s Additional Labour Commissioner in the presence of a representative appointed by the Kerala HC, failed to settle the issues of employees as representatives from the management did not turn up for the meeting.
The management, which has stated that they are ready to provide compensation to the employees instead of reinstating them, submitted a letter instead. However, the employees and the union had already denied the compensation on offer and have been protesting to reinstate the 164 employees who had been terminated “illegally”.
“The stand of the management is against the direction of the court. Even after closing down, all the 568 branches, 10 regional offices, two zonal offices and the head office have been functioning well. In the 2019-20 economic year, the company had a profit of Rs 3,168 crore,” said C.C. Ratheesh, the Secretary of NBPFE, in a press statement.
Earlier, the management had stated that the Kerala chapter of the company was running at a loss, which was said to be reason behind the closure of the branches. The unions, however, point out that the illegal termination was a retaliatory move by the management in response to the employees staging a 52-day strike from August 20, 2019.
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“The company, which had shut down the Thodupuzha (Idukki) region office and laid off the employees, had reinstated them and some of them were even given promotions. It had after the 164 employees had been terminated. The management is still resorting to a hide-and-seek attitude when it comes to the case of the 164 employees,” Ratheesh added.
So far, despite the many conciliation meetings and court sittings, employees say that the management is adamant on their stand. At one point, the management even declared that they do not want to engage with the NBPFA.
Of the terminated employees, four are the office bearers of the union. Another 30 employees are working committee members of the union and rest are active members of the union.
On February 20, during one of the sittings, the Kerala HC had directed the management to resolve the issues on a humanitarian basis and arrive at a positive conclusion before February 26.
“To the court’s question, the management’s advocate replied that they are going for the closure of a further 100 branches. Though they have decided to close the branches, they are not ready to apply the retrenchment policy. As per the retrenchment policy, the last ones to join should be the first ones to go. That means the junior most should be terminated. Then the court asked whether the management is ready for it, but their advocate has not said anything. It is clear that the management just wants to dismantle the union. Because, so far, management had terminated the union leaders and they had closed down the branches where the active members of the union work. Otherwise, they could easily follow the retrenchment rule,” K.J. Thomas of MFEU had told NewsClick earlier.
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With conciliation meetings and court sittings having proven to be unsuccessful so far, another hearing in the case is scheduled for June 29.