The strike of the permanent workers of Motherson Automative Technologies and Engineering (MATE) plant in Pondur village of Kancheepuram district has entered 60th day. The indefinite strike was declared by the workers seeking recognition of the union, improved working conditions and better wages. The management went on to recruit contract workers in a move to retaliate against the striking workers as soon as the strike started.
The management has served show cause notice to many of the workers for participating in the strike even though a strike notice was served by the workers in advance. The several rounds of reconciliation talks have not yielded any good for the workers.
The auto component manufacturing company employs around 500 permanent workers and 1,000 contract workers in its Pondur plant.
The management, in a reconciliation talk held on October 22, turned down the demand of stopping victimisation activities against the workers. The workers have been served suspension and show cause notices for participating in a legally announced strike.
S Eraniappan, general secretary of the Chengai Anna Mavatta Jananaya Thozhilalar Sangam, while speaking to NewsClick, said, “The management is violating the Industrial Disputes Act by serving notices to striking workers. The union had served notice to the management about the strike well in advance and there was no response to the notice. Now, the workers are being victimised for participating in the strike.”
The management has agreed to disburse the bonus amount to all the workers for the previous financial year before Wednesday evening and the next round of talks is scheduled to be held on October 31.
EXPLOITATION OF WORKERS
The workers, however, allege that the management deducts amount from their salary every month and pay this amount back to them as the bonus. The workers are paid very low wages and the ambiguous deductions add to their woes.
The president of the MATE plant union, Murugan, said, “I am working in this plant since 2011 as a technician. I was paid Rs 6,500 while joining and now I earn Rs 12,500. But, my salary package is Rs 22,500 per month. We don’t know what are the deductions made in the salary.”
The workers also said they are denied other facilities like transport, food and first aid. The management has refused transport facilities for the workers on holidays including Sundays, claimed the workers’ union.
The general rule of paying twice the actual salary for the ‘over time’ is also breached by the company. Murugan added, “The company compels us to work overtime on holidays and Sundays, but pays only the normal wage instead of the overtime wage as per rules. The company does not even provide food for the workers during the general shift. They exploit us in all possible means and deny even the basic facilities.”
The workers allege that the management has been in denial for reconciliation talks to end the strike. The workers conducted various demonstrations and submitted petitions to district collector of Kancheepuram and the labour commissioner.
“The deputy commissioner of labour orally advised the company to withdraw the show-cause notices issued to the workers during the talks, as the strike is legal. But it received a negative response and forced the workers to strengthen the strike,” adds Eraniappan.
The workers and the family members conducted a dharna in Sriperumpudur on September 13 followed by a petition to the district collector on September 16 to intervene and bring an end to the strike. After two days, they sat on a hunger strike and with no positive outcome visible, they gheraoed the district labour welfare office.
The support to the striking workers has also come from the Motherson workers’ union of the Bidadi plant in Karnataka. The workers, led by the union president and the state secretary of Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU) K N Umesh, met the striking workers and extended their support.
ACTION AGAINST UNIONISATION
The workers, after severe oppression and exploitation, decided to unionise and fight against the management. They started the union on July 31 and were asked to sign an undertaking stating that they will withdraw from the membership of the union the very next day. The workers denied and staged a sit-in protest for two days till August 2. The management yielded to the protest and allotted work to the workers, later turning to victimise them. With several rounds of talks bearing no fruit, the workers started their indefinite strike from August 26.
The demand for fixation of minimum wage for workers at Rs 18,000 is gearing up while organisations like MATE are paying very low wages and exploiting the working class.
The central government, on the other hand, has taken extra efforts to propose the merger of 44 labour laws into four labour codes as part of the labour reforms. With no guaranteed employment and minimum wages, such a reform could further deepen the underemployment and underpayment of the Indian working class.
Also read: Tussle Between Motherson Management and Workers Reaches 26th Day