TN: Madras Gymkhana Club Workers Fight Caste Atrocity and Other Attacks
Gymkhana Club workers march to the Legislative Assembly. Image courtesy: LTUC
Two hundred odd workers of the 135-year-old elite Madras Gymkhana Club have been denied work for nearly a month now. The workers rallied to the Tamil Nadu Legislative Assembly in Chennai on March 2 and submitted a memorandum addressing the Chief Minister to take appropriate action.
On February 6, four employees in the Tennis Division were terminated from work. When 200 other workers stood by them and questioned the autocratic move of the administration, all of them were asked not to return to work.
Two of the terminated workers were allegedly harassed using caste slurs by a club committee member, particularly for sporting the union badge.
The workers, led by the Left Trade Union Centre (LTUC), are asking the state government to take over the Club administration.
Both permanent and contract workers receive a pittance of Rs 6,000 monthly salary in the Madras Gymkhana Club, although, on paper, their salary is above Rs 10,000. The workers have long been demanding a raise in pay.
During the COVID-19 lockdown period, they were denied even this meagre salary for five months. The workers have been urging the administration to pay dues to all the workers.
Workers are denied timely job regularisation and are made to work on a temporary basis without job security or any benefits for several years.
Vinod Kumar, LTUC union leader, said, "If a worker is employed for 480 days, they should be made permanent. As per that rule, 38 more Gymkhana Club workers should be made permanent. Some of them have worked for 15 long years as temporary workers, but the administration is not budging."
Notably, the jobs of many of the existing permanent employees were regularised after a court case was ruled in their favour in 2017.
A wage revision pact was made between the union and administration in 2019. Still, with the onset of the pandemic and the lockdown, from 2020 onwards, many benefits have been denied to the workers. The union claims that they are also deprived of the promises made in their contracts.
On January 21, two workers in the Tennis division, 25-year-old R Prasanth Kumar and 28-year-old Sukan Raj, were working in the Gymkhana Club premises sporting a badge of the workers' union.
The badge demanded that 38 workers must be made permanent, and the permanent workers must be provided with their due pay and rightful benefits.
Upon seeing the badges, Vignesh Bhasker, a member of the Gymkhana Club Committee, allegedly harassed the young workers using caste slurs.
He attacked the two dalit workers, degrading the nature of their job as mere ball boys who retrieve and supply balls for tennis players.
Kumar and Raj have worked at the club for eight years and eleven years, respectively. Raj is married and has two children. Both of them are now unemployed.
Vinod Kumar said, "Many of these workers have spent their entire youth for the club. They join as young as 17 and 18 years of age, and this is the kind of treatment they receive in return."
He further said, "Along with them, two other workers were terminated from work. In protest, the Gymkhana club employees questioned the autocratic move. In return, the administration outrightly denied work for 200 workers on February 6."
'STATE MUST INTERVENE'
The workers went on a one-day hunger strike on February 14, reiterating their demands and condemning the caste-based harassment of workers. However, they received no response from the administration.
Gymkhana Club workers on hunger strike.
A tripartite negotiation was held between the Gymkhana Club staff and employees' union, club administration and the state labour department soon after the termination of the workers. The Commissioner of Labour told the administration to return to normal and withdraw all job terminations and work denials. However, the administration has not followed the order.
The Gymkhana Club is one of the oldest luxury clubs in Chennai. Many IAS, IPS officers, big businesspersons and other upper-class society people are members of the club. They visit the club for leisure activities, but the workers who serve them are in dire straits.
Unions in other elite clubs in Chennai, such as the Madras Boat Club and Social Club, have extended solidarity to the protesting gymkhana Club workers.
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