On September 12 morning, when contract workers of Kansai Nerolac’s Haryana plant reached the factory site to begin their shift work, they found the factory gates to be closed for them. The workers were denied entry, with no prior information. Interestingly, the sudden retrenchment was not due to the current economic slump. The reason was just that the contract workers were demanding safety jackets for themselves among other things.
Since then, the whole factory workforce of over 400 workers has been staging a protest demonstration against the factory management. The protesting workers also include 194 permanent labourers who were denied entry the next morning for extending their support to the struggle of the contract workers. The protest is being led by Kansai Nerolac Paint Karamchari Union (KNPKU).
The union is demanding increment for the 250 contract workers, some of whom have been working since 15 years. A contract worker makes between Rs 8,000 and Rs 15,000 monthly for eight hours of service as against a permanent labourer, who earns between Rs 30,000 and Rs 38,000 for the same amount of work.
In addition to this, the contract workers are also deprived of safety jackets. Kansai Nerolac’s Haryana plant is one of the major industrial paint manufacturers in the state. According to the Kansai Nerolac’s website, ‘Most of the solvents, liquid paints and paint-dust are toxic in nature and depending upon the exposure period, they may enter or effect the body through skin contact, inhalation or by ingestion’. Having said that, the company goes on to claim that the exposure period is controlled and precautions are taken. However, as reality speaks for itself, the precautions are only for the permanent workers.
Moreover, making a mockery of the safety of the workers, the management has now allegedly employed ‘untrained’ workers, with no work experience with the chemicals, to meet the production targets.
“One of them has broken his leg, another’s hand has been burned and many are even trying to escape the factory premises,” said Shyam of Auto mobile Industry Contract Workers Union, adding that by hiring inexperienced workers, the factory has increased the chances of accidents, putting the whole area—up to 10 km around the factory—in danger. The Automobile Industry Contract Workers’ Union has expressed its solidarity with the Kansai Nerolac’s workers.
The protesting Kansai Nerolac workers reportedly approached the Labour Department, seeking their intervention into the matter. A meeting was convened on September 16 between the factory union representatives and the management in the presence of the Labour Department officials. A consensus was reached and the labourers were allowed to resume their work.
However, the next morning, workers were required to sign a ‘Good Conduct Undertaking’ to enter the factory. The undertaking states: “The worker shall not engage in any activity that violates the policy of conduct of the factory and will have financial impact on the production,” which, according to Shyam, translates to depriving workers of their right to strike against the “anti-worker” policies of the management.
“The undertaking is nothing short of a document of slavery and the workers boycotted it in unison,” Shyam added.
To this, the management has responded by firing some of the protesting workers on September 18. The protesting workers have been staging a sit-in in front of the factory premises. They have complained of daily harassment by the local police who have displayed their allegiance to the management. Even the state government of Bharatiya Janata Party has turned a blind eye to the violations of the labour laws by the Kansai Nerolac Management, the workers said.
Update [September 19, 5 pm]: After a week-long demonstration staged in front of the factory premises, the protesting workers of Kansai Nerolac factory have decided to sign the ‘Good Conduct Undertaking’ on September 19. The workers will resume their shift work from tomorrow. However, what will be the fate of the hired ‘untrained’ workers is still not clear.