Discontent is brewing among the workers of Indian Coffee House branches in the Malabar area against the perceived inferior treatment meted out to them compared to their counterparts in central and southern districts.
Of the 72 Indian Coffee House branches in the State, 51 between Thrissur and Thiruvananthapuram districts, with the exception of Idukki where a branch is yet to open, accounting for over 2,000 workers, come under the Indian Coffee Board Worker’s Cooperative Society Limited, Thrissur. The remaining 21 branches between Palakkad and Kasaragod with over 600 workers are governed by the Indian Coffee Workers’ Cooperative Society Limited, Kannur.
Interestingly, while the Thrissur society is under the Industries Department, the Kannur society remains under the Cooperative Department. This has been so ever since the inception of both the societies in 1958.
“We are seriously considering a move to the industries department in the face of apathetic approach of the cooperative department to our various needs. We are discussing it and if a consensus evolves we will include it as an agenda in the annual general body meeting scheduled for September,” said P.V. Balakrishnan, president, Indian Coffee Workers’ Cooperative Society Limited, Kannur.
Thrissur and Kannur societies follow different wage structure and staff pattern. A branch under the Thrissur society has a manager, a counter clerk, a pantry man, a waiter/cleaner, a coffee maker and a plate washer. They all start with the basic pay of Rs. 2,400 which then goes on to vary depending on the seniority and number of incentives.
Under the Kannur society, a unit will have a manager, a senior clerk, or junior clerk, and general workers with the prospects of four grades of promotion. The basic pay for these posts varies between Rs. 4,685 and Rs. 3,400. “The basic pay notwithstanding, the workers under the Thrissur society enjoys better promotion opportunities and incentives. Our proposal for restructuring the staff pattern for better promotional avenues is yet to be approved by the cooperative department, “said C.K. Surendran, unit secretary of the CITU-affiliated Kerala Cooperative Employees Union at the Kannur society.
It takes a long period for general workers, who form almost 98 per cent of the 650-strong work force of the Kannur society, to get promotion. “Now it takes 10 years for a general worker to get promoted to selection grade, 20 years to special grade, 25 years to higher grade, and 28 years to senior grade. We have submitted a proposal to bring down the duration,” said V.K. Sasidharan, secretary of the Kannur society.
More importantly the Thrissur society can create their own wage structure and start new branches on their own which will be invariably approved by the industries department, a senior official working with the society for the last 27 years said. Kannur society on the other hand will have to get everything approved by the cooperative department in advance.
This forced the workers of the Kannur society to launch an agitation under the aegis of Kerala Cooperative Employees Union after the registrar of cooperative societies twice rejected a proposal for pay revision due since November 2011. The proposal was eventually approved and the workers are now waiting for the order.
Mr. Balakrishnan said the cooperative department treated the coffee house also as a cooperative bank. So permission to open a new branch comes with a rider that new posts will not be sanctioned. “We are supposed to run new branches with the existing staff, a situation that the Thrissur society never has to encounter. “Recently, three new branches were opened under the society. Each branch needs 42 employees, which means that we are now short of 126 employees. Redeploying the staff spells trouble for the existing branches as well,” he said.