Hunger fast in industrial corridors of Sriperumbudur and Oragadam continues

In the industrial corridors of Sriperumbudur and Oragadam, the word trade union is taboo. There have been instances of both contract and permanent workers having been shown the door for trying to raise issues including those relating to wages, work conditions and confirmation. It is in support of these workers that V. Prakash, advocate and honourary president of the United Labour Federation, is on a three-day hunger fast at Sriperumbudur.

“We are demanding that the Tamil Nadu government constitute a task force headed by a retired High Court Judge with participation from labour representatives to suggest ways and means to study such major industrial units in the State and the conditions of the workers there. Various government departments and the police have been acting pro-management when it comes to labour issues. We want more pro-labour participation from the government agencies,” Mr. Prakash told The Hindu on Saturday — day two of his fast.

Apart from workers of industrial units in Sriperumbudur and Oragadam, those from Coimbatore, Tiruvallur, Tiruchi and Puducherry, too, are lending him support.

“The ULF is involved in at least three companies right now where contract labourers and permanent employees have been treated badly. In this area alone, from what I have studied, there is a pattern of having a ratio of 1:10 of permanent workers to precarious workers. There have been instances of workers being beaten up in factories and then thrown out,” he said.

A worker who did not wish to be named said he had worked for five years in a company that makes automobile glasses without any confirmation order even though he was promised that he would be made permanent after a year.

“I waited for five years and when I gathered some support and asked on behalf of the ULF, we were not allowed inside the company thereafter. Our attempts to get jobs in the industrial estate did not bear fruit as our management seemed to have informed others about our activities. In the last five years, we have always worked to improve the performance of the company. When I joined we made 400 glasses per shift but last year it was 1,600 pieces,” he said.

Another worker, employed in a company that manufactures engine spare parts, said last year when some of the workers agitated, they went on a hunger fast inside the unit while at work. “When one female co-worker fainted, I took her to the hospital. On seeing me help her, a Korean boss of mine beat me and asked me to get out after putting the entire blame on me. A case was filed with the Deputy Commissioner of Labour and last month we received a conciliation failure report as the management did not sit down for talks. We are hoping that the government will take adequate steps to ensure that we do not lose our jobs,” he said.

Rakhi Sehgal of the National Forum Against Contract Work and spokesperson of the ULF, said contract labourers did not get pay slips, appointment orders, provident fund, medical aid or ESI. “They are provided uniform, shoes, transport and poor food, and money is deducted from their salaries for these. The conditions are such that workers are oppressed and under tremendous pressure. It will not take long for a Yanam- or Gurgaon-like incident to take place here,” she said.

Ms. Rakhi said workers were talking of re-colonisation of India by foreign companies. “They don't care how the workers live. With our salaries, we cannot afford to live in individual houses or even marry. For them, it is profit over lives and dignity of people. The workers are leading fragmented battles, we want to bring them on one platform,” she said. The ULF is also seeking amendments to the Contract Labour Act.

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Deepa H. RamakrishnanJune 28, 2012

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