TN: Electronics Company Workers go on Strike Demanding Wage Revision
More than 100 workers of an electronics production unit in Salem district are on an indefinite strike, demanding proper wage revision. The strike that began on August 4 has reached its ninth day on Thursday, August 12, and Talema Electronics workers are not willing to call it off until a reasonable wage hike is provided to them.
Established in 1975, Talema Electronics Private Limited is a Swedish company that produces step-up and step-down transformers. The unit in Salem is situated in a prime locality in the district headquarters, and is a landmark in the area.
Some of the labourers have been working at the unit since its early years and are disappointed at the poor treatment by the administration.
Out of more than 400 workers in the production unit, 110 workers associated with the Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU) are on an indefinite strike, and the other unions have extended solidarity.
DELIBERATE DELAY IN WAGE HIKE
The previous wage pact in Talema Electronics expired in February 2020. It has been one and a half years since its lapse, but wages are yet to be revised by the management.
The President of the CITU union in Talema Electronics, Srinivasan, said, “On February 13, 2020, the previous wage pact expired, but the administration took no effort to come up with a new agreement. We submitted a memorandum with our demands on February 22, 2020, yet no efforts were made”.
Workers pointed out that the COVID-19 imposed lockdown was used to the advantage of the management to postpone the wage revision.
Empty Talema unit in Salem due to workers’ strike.
“The administration took advantage of the lockdown, and deliberately delayed talks and negotiations for one and a half years. We will not accept any more delays, our demands have to be met immediately” Srinivasan added.
Production was on all through the pandemic, except the initial 45-day nationwide lockdown. Given that the unit was producing goods for export, it was open even during the massive COVID-19 wave in May 2021.
“We have given our 100%, shouldn’t the management acknowledge our work and give us a fair wage revision? We ensured that production was not affected during the pandemic. We followed all Corona protocols, no clusters were created in our unit. Is this the treatment we get in return?” asked Banumathi, one of the workers.
Left without an alternative after insisting on a wage hike for 17 months, the workers called for an indefinite strike in early August.
‘ADMIN’S PROPOSAL IS DEMEANING’
Even after the strike-call was given, the administration did not call on union leaders for negotiation. This poor treatment further enraged the workers. Only after the hunger strike was announced and workers began falling ill did the management come up with a proposal.
Banumathi said, “The administration made a pittance of a proposal. It suggested a ridiculous Rs 750 hike for 2021 and an added Rs 750 from 2023. This is less than half of the previous wage hike, which was Rs 3,200”. She further added, “With the rate of inflation, how can this amount be justified?”
Empty Talema unit in Salem due to workers’ strike.
Workers also claimed that the administration demanded them to accept the proposal or threatened to shut the production unit causing job loss for more than 400 workers.
“The MD of the company conveniently went out of station after the strike-call was given. Over the phone he said, 'Take what you get, otherwise you won’t get this also; at your age, you will not get a better job. The company can be shifted to any of the 28 countries it has units in',” said Srinivasan.
Srinivasan added, “The MD also said, 'Even my job is at stake here, accept the proposal.' We asked the MD to take our side and protest against the admin."
The strike called on August 4 intensified after the administration’s continued neglect of the workers. On August 9, the workers called for an indefinite hunger strike, and many of the women workers fell sick over the next couple of days.
“From August 9 onwards we called for a full-fledged hunger strike. Although many of the workers couldn’t handle it, they insisted we continued the hunger strike. 17 women workers fainted and were taken to the hospital, one of them was even admitted to the ICU,” said Banumathi.
Srinivasan said “The women who were taken to the hospital insisted on returning back to the site of protest. They were hell-bent on continuing the protest”.
After the workers called for a hunger strike and their health conditions deteriorated, the administration gave a call for talks, scheduled for August 13. The workers have not backtracked from the protest.
“We will continue the protest till our demand for a reasonable salary hike is met. After the call for talks was initiated by the admin, we called off the indefinite hunger strike but we are continuing the stay-in protest,” said Banumathi.
‘WE DON’T DESERVE THIS TREATMENT’
The indefinite strike reflects the evident disappointment of the workers of Talema electronics.
“I started working in Talema in 2004, it is my 17th year and I haven’t faced such treatment by the admin in all these years. We gave all our labour, we did our part, but the management is not doing theirs. They are treating us like cattle and sucking our labour, we feel cheated. Many of us have been with the company since its early days, now that the company is well-established we are being throttled,” said Banumathi
“Earlier, the company was owned by a German, but it was recently sold off to a Swedish national. The previous owner is a CEO in the company. All of them complicit in exploiting the workers, there is no difference” said Srinivasan
Newsclick reached out to Talema Electronics India Pvt Ltd management via email and to the Managing Director via phone, but there was no response from their end.
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