Nearly 2,000 workers from Nokia India’s Chennai plant — which employs close to 8,000 people — took to the streets here on Monday, to raise awareness regarding their job insecurity and to demand protection for their livelihood.
The Finnish handset maker is now involved in two separate tax disputes, one with the Centre and one with the Tamil Nadu Government. Tax authorities have frozen the company’s assets, which include the Chennai plant, until the dispute with the Centre is resolved. The plant, which needs to be transferred to software giant Microsoft before the end of April as part of the impending acquisition, faces, therefore, an uncertain future.
If some of the workers do lose their jobs, which the management has indicated is a possibility due to the number of tax wrangles the company is currently fighting, then the question of re-skilling themselves and finding new jobs comes into play.
According to Saravana Kumar, Nokia India Employees Union President, much of the work done at the Nokia’s Chennai plant is unskilled work that involves no specialised skills that can be transferred to other industries.
“The average age of the employees at the Chennai plant is around 25, with nearly 60 per cent of the workers being women. Some employees have joined just after finishing their basic schooling. How will they find jobs elsewhere… these skills are not transferable, it is just assembly work,” Mr. Kumar told this correspondent .
“Most of the workers have been working here for the last eight years…it is too late for them to go to college . We want to make sure all the workers transfer to Microsoft as part of the acquisition and not left behind” he added.
“A lot of us come from families that depended on weaving or farming for their livelihood. We have left that and depend on Nokia as our job at the plant is our biggest asset now. I don’t know what else we will ,” said P. Radhika, a 26 year old shop-floor worker.
“Most plants in this area [Sriperumbudur] want workers in the age of 20-22 years. It will be difficult to go back to my family right now, they will be heartbroken,” she added.
A Nokia India spokesperson said that the company had been in close contact with the union officials to ensure the health and well-being of all participating employees.