September 10 marked the 22nd day of the Muthoot Finance employees’ strike in Kerala. Thousands of striking employees, all across the state, have come out on road each day raising slogans and demanding a fair salary structure and an annual increment system. While the management has turned a blind eye to the labour issues faced by the employees, constant attempts are being made to colour the episode into a law and order issue.
A conciliatory talk between the representatives of Non-Banking & Private Finance Employees Association (NPFEA) – the striking union which is affiliated to Centre of Indian Trade Union (CITU) – and the Muthoot Finance’s management took place on Monday, September 9, in the presence of the state’s Labour Minister T. P. Ramakrishnan. The talks failed to break the deadlock and according to the employees, it is due to the callous view of the management towards the labour rights of the employees.
The view was further corroborated when Muthoot Finance managing director George Alexander Muthoot called for the state home ministry’s intervention in the matter rather than the Labour Minister. “This is not a labour issue, it is a law and order issue,” The Hindu quoted him as saying.
“From the very start, the management has set the media narrative which has focused on everything but the poor labour conditions against which the strike has been organised,” Thomas K J, State Vice president of the union told NewsClick.
Also read: Victimisation, Media Trial and Struggle of Muthoot Finance ...
With non-recognition of the trade union and victimisation of the union members along with the wage revision demands that are raised by the union, Thomas reiterated that it is a fight for the labour rights of the employees as opposed to what media reports are portraying.
The striking employees, in addition to a media trial against them, have also been facing “terror tactics” of the management meant to break the strike of the employees.
At first, it is the non-disbursal of the salaries that is making it hard for the employees to keep up with their financial needs. “The August salaries have not been disbursed yet,” Ratheesh, general secretary of the union told NewsClick. According to him, since the strike was launched from August 20, the employees have full rights to claim their monthly salary for the initial days of service.
In addition to this, the management has now decided to shut down 43 branches across the state which will only operate for the next three months to provide a period to its customers to close their loan accounts or transfer their operations.
“Even this decision translates to witch-hunting against the union members as the branches that are going to get shut down employed the front line leaders of the union that is leading the strike,” said Thomas.
However, even this news didn’t stop the share prices of the Muthoot Finance Ltd. to record an increase in their value. According to a Financial Express report, share prices rose by the most in the last two weeks – as much as 2.5%, thanks to the comments made by Muthoot, according to whom, the protest will have “little impact on business.”
It must be clear that the employees of Muthoot Finance were first forced to go on strike and now it is them and the management who are bearing the brunt of the strike, added Thomas.
Also read: This Is A Fight for Our Labour Rights, Say Striking Employees of Muthoot Finance
September 10 also marks the first day the annual harvest festival Onam, a major Hindu celebration for the Malayalis in and outside Kerala. However, this year, with their ongoing struggle against the management, the day holds different meaning for the striking employees of Muthoot Finance.
As far as the next round of talks are concerned, the date will only to be scheduled after the festival.