‘We are Treated Like Modern-Day Bonded Labourers’: TASMAC Employees
Image courtesy: CITU Tamil Nadu.
The staff of the Tamil Nadu State Marketing Corporation (TASMAC), the sole retail vendor of alcohol in the state with more than 5,400 outlets, staged a statewide protest on January 7 demanding job regularisation and implementation of labour laws applicable to them.
Even 18 years after the state took over the sector, the workers are still fighting for minimum wages and weekly offs.
The cooperative employs more than 25,000 workers with a supervisor, salesperson and an assistant salesperson managing every outlet. The TASMAC Workers Union, affiliated with the Centre of Indian Trade Unions, staged the protest demanding the basic rights of the employees while alleging that the “state government treats them like modern-day bonded labourers”.
Shankar, a TASMAC employee who participated in the protest, outside the Commissionerate of Labour in Teynampet, Chennai, told Newsclick that “while vegetables and milk prices are rising steeply, their salaries are very low. How can we run our families at this rate? We should be given minimum wages”.
The protest was called despite the announcement of a Rs 500 pay hike in September 2021. A TASMAC employee’s average monthly pay is merely around Rs 13,000.
“We go through a lot of psychological and other kinds of stress while working from 12 hours a day—10 am till 10 pm. We don’t even have time for unloading the stock or having lunch. We don’t even have access to toilets. We work under such terrible conditions,” Shankar said.
Protestors also pointed out that though the state government withholds a portion of their salaries every month, they have not been informed about the medical facilities provided under Employees’ State Insurance.
Tiruselvam, a state-level leader of the union, said, “If we add up the overtime, and the weekly offs and national holidays on which the staff were made to work, the state government should pay Rs 10 lakh to each worker. In total, the state owes us Rs 2,000 crore for the extra man-days.”
The TASMAC employees also alleged discrimination by the state government despite working like employees of other cooperatives. “Workers of the government textile cooperative Co-Optex have time-scale pay and permanent jobs. Similarly, labour laws are applicable to the workers of dairy cooperative Aavin and Poompuhar artisans, who make handicrafts. Why are TASMAC treated unequally? This is also a government cooperative,” Tiruselvam added. “Despite the denial of the basic rights, the Labour Welfare Board does not stand with the workers; it is not bothered about our welfare.”
The TASMAC workers also were forced to work during the lockdown. “We were working at the risk of our lives but we received no benefits,” said Shankar.
Since labour laws are not applicable to the TASMAC employees, the corporation can sack them without notice. Ponmudi, another leader of the union, told the protesters, “How can the government make an exception? Nobody is above the law.”
Tiruselvam said that since 2006, “we have been struggling for our rights for several years despite the change of governments. None of the governments made an effort to implement the laws”.
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