Former staff say they were sacked for trying to form a union
“10 worker who help out the 26/11 attack injures now in trouble they are illegally sack by owner without paying dues” read an SMS sent by the Leopold Cafe Kamgar Sanghatana. The message highlights an ongoing battle between workers and employers of the Leopold Café that was attacked four years ago on November 26 when terrorists targeted Mumbai.
The 10 dismissed workers, mainly waiters, of the over 100 employees at the café are taking turns sitting on a five-day fast with their families at Azad Maidan till Monday.
Their demands include reinstatement as well as settlement of their dues and Provident Fund and Employees State Insurance benefits. Other complaints are low salary, unreasonable working hours with low overtime payment, having to purchase their uniforms as well as the serving tray and share their tips with the management.
Dressed in the now famous red T-shirt with the Leopold emblem, Tukaram Ilale who lost his job as a waiter said, “We were all sacked one after another between April and May this year. No reason was given. There was no official letter of termination or a notice period. We were just told not to come the next day. Only one of us was told that he was sacked for trying to form a union.”
The 10 waiters have also accused the owners of unlawful dismissal saying their resignation letters were forged in their names. They also allege that their former co-workers have been forced to sign on blank sheets of papers. This, they say, is being used to prevent others from joining a union.
Abdul Jalil, who was the first to lose his job, said: “Our salary was Rs. 3,500. From this we not only had to look after our families but also buy two T-shirts as our uniforms. Each costs Rs. 500. If the shirts fade, we had to replace them. We even had to purchase the serving tray from the café owners even though they got it as free advertising from a soft drink company.”
Peter Fernandes said the management took “a cut from tips.’ According to him Rs. 60 was taken from each morning shift waiter and Rs. 80 from the evening ones. He said the working hours went beyond the shift timings and the overtime payment did not compensate for this.
Mr. Ilale said there was no provision for routine breakages and waiter’s salaries were docked even for small things like dropping a clean paper napkin. “We would be charged Rs. 10 if we dropped a tissue. If a customer asked us to give leftovers to a poor person then we were made to pay for the container.”
The workers are being assisted in their unionising efforts by Vishwas Utagi, the secretary of the All India Bank Employees Association. He said help was sought from the State government and the group had met State Labour Minister Hasan Mushrif.
Mr. Utagi told The Hindu that an RTI application had been filed to check if the management had made arrangements for PF for their employees and found that no one had received their dues nor was there any arrangement for this.
Manoj Mirchandani, who is representing Leopold’s in court, said “everything was in order” from the management’s side at the time of dismissal. “We have their resignation letters and the receipts that say they have collected their dues.”
Mr. Mirchandani said the workers had been to various unions, including the Shiv Sena’s Bharatiya Kamgar Sena. “Farzad and Farhang [the owners] were called to the Sena union office. They took all the documents. The Sena union told the dismissed workers they did not have a case.”
Mr. Ilale, who was among the first of the café employees to assist the injured after the 26/11 shooting, said: “The sole surviving terrorist Ajmal Kasab has been hanged. Even his fate was decided but ours continue to be uncertain.” The case is at the City Civil Court and the next date for hearing is November 29.