Tamil Nadu: Plantation Workers’ Strike Over Refusal to Implement Wage Revision Enters 18th Day
Kanyakumari: The workers of the Arasu Rubber Corporation (ARC) run by the government of Tamil Nadu in the Kanyakumari district have been on strike since November 7. Though the conciliation talks for wage revision for the three-year period – from December 1, 2019, to November 20, 2022 – concluded on August 16, 2022, with a decision to increase the wage by Rs 40 per day, a government order is yet to be published.
The wage talks have been held continuously on multiple occasions during the last three years, between the ARC, trade unions and the Labour Department. The workers question the ARC on the delay in implementing the decision taken in the presence of three ministers of the state government.
Around 1,200 workers including permanent and contract workers are on strike under the leadership of the coordination committee of the Rubber Plantation Workers Unions against the delay. The workers have decided not to return to work until the agreement is implemented by the state government.
TOTAL PARTICIPATION IN THE STRIKE
The coordination committee of the plantation workers' unions announced the strike, against the inordinate delay in the implementation of the wage hikes, which was agreed upon towards the end of the settlement period. The earlier wage settlement expired on November 30, 2019.
“The settlement for 2019-22 was agreed upon in the presence of three ministers from the state government, on August 16, 2022. For reasons known only to the management of the ARC, the implementation is being delayed forcing us to resort to the strike,” M Valsa Kumar, leader of the coordination committee and the Kanniyakumari District Estate Workers Union (KDEWU) told NewsClick.
The strike has seen participation by the permanent workers as well, who have been holding regular protests during the strike period in front of the divisional offices of the ARC.
The district police have denied permission for a hunger strike even as political parties including the Communist Party of India (Marxist) [CPI(M)] are continuing with their solidarity protests.
The workers are staying outside the divisional offices of the ARC since the strike began against the anti-labour policies of the management.
The next settlement period begins on December 1, 2022, even as the wage revision for the previous settlement period is yet to reach the workers. The trade unions are gearing up with their next set of demands, though the ARC is reluctant to implement the decisions taken.
Workers protested close to the plantations owned by the ARC in different divisions in the district.
The settlement was not a cakewalk for the workers as the marathon talks extended up to August – with hardly three months left before the end of the settlement period. The workers had held 101 rounds of talks in the three-year period for a meagre hike in their daily wages.
A strike was held in February 2020 after 47 rounds of talks were held and yet, no solution could emerge. The 48th sitting of the meeting was held in the same month, during which the management agreed to increase the wage by Rs 2, while the workers were demanding a hike of Rs 17.
“Several rounds of talks followed and after 101 meetings, the ARC agreed to hike the wage by Rs 40. Refusing to implement this hike is betraying the workers of the corporation,” said Natarajan, leader of the KDEWU affiliated with the Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU).
The final decision was taken in the presence of three ministers of the state government: the ministers for labour welfare, forests, and Information Technology (IT). Despite the presence of such high-profile mediators, the ARC management has refused to stick to the agreement, forcing the workers to resort to a strike again.
The workers have been accusing the management of incompetence leading to losses and a reduction in the plantation area of the corporation and employment of Sri Lankan repatriates and workers from the tribal communities.
AGAINST INCREASING TENURE OF SETTLEMENT PERIOD
The trade unions have accused the ARC management of pushing for an increase in the settlement period from three years to five years. All the trade unions have been opposing the move, citing the inflation rates.
“We have opposed the suggestion of increasing the settlement period right from the beginning. The present set up of a three-year settlement period must continue,” Valsa Kumar told NewsClick.
The corporation is citing the decision to increase the settlement period of the state transport corporation to four years for their demand. However, the unions are not ready to concede to the demand.
“The management is desperately pushing to increase the period to at least four years instead of three years, but we will continue to oppose it,” Valsa Kumar added.
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