TN: Why Have the TASMAC Workers Been Protesting?
The wholesale and retail vending of alcoholic beverages in Tamil Nadu is wholly run by the state government owned Tamil Nadu State Marketing Corporation, popularly known as TASMAC. The Corporation employs over 25,000 workers in three categories—supervisor, salesperson and assistant salesperson.
The public perception of the TASMAC workers is that they are extremely corrupt and never sell bottles within the maximum retail price. However, there is a lot that goes on behind the scenes.
Turns out that jacking up alcohol prices is part of the job, because without generating funds like this, it is not easy to run a TASMAC shop. The Corporation does not fully support these shops with loadmen, full rent amount, damage compensation, and other things, and hence the shops have to find ways to make profit.
Moreover, to run TASMAC shops, the supervisors have to regularly pay money to the authorities, and those who deny it face several consequences.
TASMAC workers hold protest demonstrations time and again, reiterating their demands against this corrupt system. Trade union leaders say that though they are employed by the state government, they enjoy no benefits of a government employee.
There are only three categories of work in a TASMAC shop; there is no provision to hire loadmen for shifting goods from the trucks into the shops. Loadmen are necessary, and to pay them, the shops have to make profit.
Given that the workers handle bottles on a daily basis, accidents are also inevitable, but there is no provision for compensation for damages. The shops have to bear expenses incurred due to accidents.
Additionally, the Corporation allegedly does not pay the full rent. The workers accuse the Corporation of fixing a rent lower than the actual amount paid for the shops, pushing TASMAC workers to generate funds.
Besides all these, “every shop is expected to regularly pay money to the administrators, if they refuse to fall in line with this deal those in power take revenge,” said Thiruchelvan, state level leader of the TASMAC workers’ union affiliated to the Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU).
“The workers are tortured for not playing along with these unruly practices. Their load is cut short, and the authorities usurp a portion of the load” he added.
“The workers’ attendance books and identity cards are also confiscated. This was a big hassle during the lockdown period, because it was mandatory to produce identity cards to the police to prove that they were eligible to travel after the curfew,” said Thiruchelvan.
A recent protest held in Chennai on August 6 condemned the authorities, who put a lot of pressure on a supervisor, which allegedly led to him attempting suicide.
Like most other services, TASMAC shops were also shut down when the nationwide lockdown was imposed on March 24, 2020. However, the TASMAC shops lifted shutters for the public on August 18, 2020, before most other services commenced.
Even though TASMAC workers were highly prone to COVID-19 infection, they were given only partial health benefits. Trade unions demanded the government to treat them on par with frontline workers, but the government did not pay any heed.
D Dhanasekaran, secretary of the TASMAC employees’ union affiliated to the AITUC, said, “More than 30 TASMAC workers lost their lives due to the pandemic. AITUC demanded compensation of 10 lakh to each of these families, only half of them received it. We are pressing the government to ensure compensation for the rest as well.”
REGULARISE TASMAC WORKERS
Through continuous struggles, TASMAC workers have received several wage hikes in the past 18 years, since the Corporation was set up in 2003. Yet, the supervisor, salesperson and assistant salesperson receive a monthly salary of only Rs 12,250, Rs 10,750 and Rs 9,500 respectively.
Dhanasekaran said, “Though they are state government employees, they get no benefits of being one. In the neighbouring state of Kerala, liquor shop workers are permanent employees. They receive HRA, DA and other benefits.”
He added, “In Kerala, loadmen are hired for unloading the goods in the shops, which is a job that is expected of the salesperson and the assistant in Tamil Nadu. There are always customers in the shop, so stepping out to unload is not possible. There is also provision for damage compensation in Kerala.”
Except the distribution, everything else is run by the private sector in Tamil from production to transportation. Even the shop and the bar attached to it are not government-owned.
“The district management is also private, where assistant managers are temporary workers. Only the deputed officers are government employees and they are easily transferred from one department to another. Since the DMK formed the government, 2 IAS officers have been shifted in the Revenue Department,” said Thiruchelvan.
Trade unions are pushing the government to take full control over liquor distribution and empower the TASMAC workers.
‘SET UP ENQUIRY COMMITTEE’
CITU has demanded that an enquiry committee be set up to look into the corrupt practices in the Corporation over the past ten years. “We call TASMAC a government institute, but there is absolutely no morality in its functioning. In the state, there are 56 public sector institutes, but in none of them workers are mistreated the way TASMAC workers are exploited,” said Thiruchelvan.
“We have regularly raised the issue of TASMAC workers being mistreated by the government authorities, we even petitioned the appropriate MLA many times, but they hardly even acknowledge the issue; the petition is not even scrutinised, forget treating it,” he added.
“In the last 10 years of AIADMK rule, we did not expect much, it was a blatantly anti-people government. The TASMAC employees’ union mobilised votes for the Secular Progressive Alliance, and campaigned against Edappadi Palaniswami. We had expectations from DMK, but even though the government changed, there is really no change,” said Thiruchelvan.
Notably, when former Chief Minister Jayalalithaa came to power in 2016, she promised to shut down many TASMAC shops. 500 shops were shut down in the first year, but it did not continue in the following years. Union leaders claim that the TASMAC produces revenue not only for the government, but also for the officers involved and the two major political parties in the state, hence the government is not interested in reducing the number of TASMAC shops.
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