Most of the 2,800 fixed term and contract workers in Koodankulam Nuclear Power Plant (KKNPP) in Tirunelveli district of Tamil Nadu have been reportedly compelled to surrender their ATM cards, cheque books and bank passbooks to their employers. The employers have allegedly unlawfully withdrawn a part of the salary paid to the workers. The amount varies from Rs 2,000 to as high as Rs 15,000 a month.
This exploitation of the workers has existed ever since the KKNPP was commissioned in the year 2013, the workers said. Many works of the plants have been reportedly outsourced to a number of private companies. A vast majority of these companies do not even offer appointment letter to the workers they hire, to avoid labour disputes. The workers working in the hazardous environment were unable to express their grievances, as there was no trade union for contract workers.
In May 2018, the first and only union for the contract workers ‘Tirunelveli District Koodankulam Nuclear Power Contract Labours’ Union’ affiliated to Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU) was formed and registered. The union has taken forward the fight against the exploitation by the contractors and protect the rights of the workers. Recently, six contract workers were terminated from different companies and their ID cards were allegedly forcefully retained since they refused to surrender their ATM cards to their employers. After repeated representations and prolonged struggles, a conciliation meeting was held on March 8, 2019, in the Office of Regional Labour Commissioner, Madurai.
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The president of the union B Rajaguru said, “We had approached the KKNPP management to resolve the issues of the contact workers, but no solution was arrived upon. After six workers, including the general secretary of our union were terminated from service, we decided to approach the labour department with our charter of demands.” The reconciliation meeting was attended by the representatives of principal employer, representatives of ten contractors, workers’ union and the conciliation officer. “The discussion was fruitful as the contractors have agreed to reinstate five workers and agreed to fulfil the majority of our demands. But, we will fight if the contractors take any revenge actions against the workers,” he added.
The general secretary of the union, against whom a case was registered for reportedly convening a meeting to hoist the CITU flag opposite to the plant, is still waiting for the case to be withdrawn. But none of the terminated workers have been re-appointed by the respective companies as of now. While contacted, the Public Relations Officer of the KKNPP refused to comment on the issue.
The manager of Sakthi Engineering from where five workers were terminated told NewsClick that the dismissed workers have not approached them for re-appointment after the reconciliation talks. But, the workers alleged that the contractors avoid their phone calls and refuse to meet them outside the KKNPP campus. The workers are prevented from entering the KKNPP premises without a valid identity card making it impossible for them to seek re-employment even after the talks were successful.
The speed in which the Modi government is privatising jobs is sending shock waves among the youth. Contract work and fixed term employment are becoming the order of the day by a government which had promised to create 2 crore new jobs every year. Even with the unemployment rate reaching a 45-year high, the BJP-led union government seems unperturbed by the plight of the young workforce of the country which thrive for a secured job. The policy decision to outsource most of the work of even the government enterprises and PSUs has dealt a severe blow to the dreams of the youth looking for a permanent job.
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