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'Forced labour reports slanderous'

By Our Staff Correspondent

MYSORE, JULY 13. The management of the Atlantic Spinning and Weaving Mills Ltd. (formerly K.R.Mills) has accused "vested interest groups" of trying to tarnish the reputation of the company and indulge in extortion. It described the reports of alleged forced labour in the factory as a "fabricated story" which was far from truth.

Reacting to news reports that nine of the factory workers had escaped from "forced labour", the promoter of the mills, Mr. V.K.Jain, told presspersons here today that the management had identified the persons who were slandering the company's reputation in the last couple of months. The matter had been taken up at the ministerial level as well as with the local police, he added.

He said the management was receiving threatening calls from a few persons who were demanding Rs. 6 lakhs to Rs. 8 lakhs. "They had issued a warning that in case we do not comply with their demand, they would cause misery to us and throw us out of Mysore. A similar call was made at around 2.30 p.m. on Wednesday, and we lodged a complaint with the police," he added.

He suspected the involvement of a few labour leaders of the erstwhile K.R.Mills who were causing problems for the new management. Refuting strongly that employees were ill-treated, Mr. Jain said the workers in the mills were provided with facilities such as ESI, PF, canteen, leave with wages, creches for children, and national and festival holidays, as per the law. He displayed the roster and the attendance sheet of the company, and said the nine workers were trainees, and some of their relatives were also working in the mills.

"We are not denying that they were with us. But they were trainees. Some of the workers stay only during the training period and they are lured by better prospects in the mills at Bhiwandi in Mumbai. These nine persons were also lured by better prospects in Mumbai, and had left without telling anyone. They were with us till July 10 and have collected their wages. In fact, some of them have not cleared their canteen bills," said Mr. Jain.

He said the persons making statements of forced or bonded labour had no understanding of the definition of bonded labour. It was not a construction site unit, and there was no question of enforcing the Inter-State Migration Act since the factory was employing specialised labour. "You go to any factory or industry and you will find people who are not locals. There are 225 workers in the mills of which 35 to 40 are stated to be non- locals. The capacity utilisation of the mill is only five to 10 per cent due to disturbances and lack of a congenial work atmosphere outside the factory. A murder took place on the factory premises in 1996, and criminal cases were registered against the guilty who are inimical towards the management and creating problems for them," Mr. Jain said.

"The factory is situated on the main road and is in the heart of the city," he said. "Even the local villagers are our employees. This being the case, bonded labour cannot continue for so many years without the knowledge of so many people. In the last five years, (officials of) various departments including labour, and the inspector of factories have been visiting the factory, and their reports have not recorded any unfair labour practice. It is only a handful of old K.R.Mill leaders who want to blackmail us and achieve their selfish motives," he added.

When pointed out that the labourers who had "escaped" had said that there was restriction on movement, Mr. Jain said that was the case in all factories. "If this amounts to practising bonded labour, then all industries are guilty," he remarked. A few workers were also present at the press conference, including the father of one of the workers who had "escaped" from the mills.

Notice issued

The Labour Officer in Mysore Division said he had issued a notice to the management of the mill for violating the Inter-State Migration Act. The factory had not obtained the registration certificate, and was employing workers from other States, he added. The Labour Office in Mysore recorded the statements of the workers employed in the mill, and said there were problems pertaining to payment of bonus and also ESI and PF.

However, the advocates of the company here claimed that the question of implementing the Inter-State Migration Act was subject to interpretation of the Act. The wage structure was superior to other established companies, and there was no violation of Minimum Wages Act, they claimed.

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