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West Bengal: Workers of Automobile Dealerships Unionise, Fight for Their Rights

The first and only union in the sector was formed with help from CITU, and with the objective of helping the workers raise their voices.
West Bengal: Workers of Automobile Dealerships Unionise, Fight for Their Rights

Representational Image. Image Courtesy: Reuters

Kolkata: Tridib Roy (name changed on request) is a permanent worker of a city-based automobile dealership. Until a few months ago, every time he said something against his employer and demanded basic amenities, he was risking his job. However, after the formation of the first employees' union last month in automobile dealerships spread across the state, the workers feel more empowered. Now, the sales managers or the general managers of the big dealerships think twice before treating the employees poorly.

Tridib leaves his home every morning at 8 AM, and returns twelve hours later. After a rigorous workday, when the dealership managers complain about the quality of work despite the high productivity, it doesn't sit well with workers like him. Earlier, if an employee protested individually, it would lead to their retrenchment. However, according to Tridib, the employers have become more sensitive to the issues faced by the workers.

Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU) leadership, including West Bengal State President Subhas Mukhopadhyay, expressed enthusiasm at formation of a workers' union in the sector. He said that he hopes that this union will provide a voice to the workers in the sector and will work towards ending their exploitation.

Car sales are increasing, the dealerships are now making profits despite the partial lockdown. When the lockdown was first imposed in March 2020, all companies refused to pay full salaries to the employees. Later, when the dealerships were closed due to government restrictions, the companies would only pay 30-40% of the salary amount to the employees, on the condition that the advance would be deducted later from their salaries. The scenario was similar in dealerships across the state, and it forced the workers to come together and contact CITU leadership to form a union in their sector. CITU leader Indrajit Ghosh was elected as the president of the union .

It is now the only union in the sector with participation of more than 3,500 workers. CITU wrote a letter to Royal Motors, registering its protest against withholding payment of salaries to some of its employees during the lockdown period. After receiving the letter, Royal Motors cleared the dues for all it's staff. This was the first victory of the union, Tridib said. Posters have been put up outside the showrooms of many dealerships which had not paid their staff during the lockdown period.

In 2020, none of the companies had ensured timely payment of bonuses to their employees during the festive season. However, following protests by the union, all dealerships had to pay bonuses to the workers. Important victories like these have been achieved within a period of less than a year.

The Union has submitted a charter of demands to owners of all dealerships. Their demands include provision of vaccination for all employees, timely payment of wages, treatment of salary and incentive as different components, provision of offer letters, appointment letters, and salary slips, and provident fund and ESI for all employees.

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