Contract workers refuse to take the pink slip and move away

The workers, including 250 women, have protested outside the factory gates for a month demanding equal rights as permanent workers.

Updated - April 07, 2016 02:54 am IST

Published - December 04, 2014 04:22 pm IST - Manesar (Haryana):

Contract workers of Asti Electronics India Pvt. Ltd, whose services were terminated, stage a protest outside the company gates in the Industrial Model Township at Manesar. Photo: Special Arrangement

Contract workers of Asti Electronics India Pvt. Ltd, whose services were terminated, stage a protest outside the company gates in the Industrial Model Township at Manesar. Photo: Special Arrangement

At 3:27 p.m. on a Saturday, with three minutes left to go before the B work-shift ended, the workers spotted the notice near the shop-floor. The company had dismissed all 310 casual workers, citing less requirement for their work. The workers could collect a week's salary from their respective contractors and leave by November 8, read the notice.

The Industrial Model Township (IMT) at Manesar holds more than 1,000 industrial units employing nearly 1.5 lakh workers. Termination of services of casual workers employed through contractors is common in the industrial township, one of six investment regions envisioned in the Delhi-Mumbai Industrial Corridor. Several of the young workers, migrants who worked via contractors since two to three years at Asti Electronics India Pvt. Ltd, have however refused to leave and move on.

A majority, 250 of the 310 dismissed workers, are women in their early 20s. On November 4, they began a sit-in protest at the gate of Asti Electronics which is still going on. Since November 25, seven workers, including five women workers from Arunachal Pradesh, Odisha, Bihar, and two from nearby villages in Haryana, have begun hunger strike outside the factory's gate.

“They were our contractual workers. We informed the contractors – Sai Enterprises, Shree Om, Aryan Enterprises - that we do not need the workers any more,” said a representative of the company, a subsidiary of Asti Corporation, Japan, which makes automobile wire harness and printed circuit boards for automobiles and appliances. “We could find another job for Rs 5000-6000 in another factory, but we want the company to take us back at the same wages, the same posts. We feel insulted in how the company dismissed us two minutes before the end of production. If we give up today, contract workers everywhere will only get treated worse than this,” said 28-year old Pushpa Negi who worked at Asti, in her second job, since 2011.

District Labour Commissioner JS Mann took part in tripartite meetings with the workers and the company management on December 1 and 2. “The company says they were not direct employers, but had hired the workers through contractors. The rules say the company could have given a notice or notice pay, which the company did,” said Mr Mann.

Most of the workers are high school and college graduates from state universities, a few are graduates from Industrial Training Institutes (ITIs). They recount they were interviewed at the same gates by company staff and then assigned to different contractors.

The Contract Labour (Regulation and Abolition) Act 1970 prohibits hiring workers on contract to do perennial work that goes on day to day, and work that is incidental to and necessary for the work of the factory. Several workers claimed they worked as operators and a few as assembly line leaders supervising other workers, thus doing work central to industrial production. They show documents as proof of wages received in cash from contractors, as well as copies of company production sheets with signatures of officials ranking the contract workers on skill on a scale from 1 to 4.

They trace rise of differences between them and the company management to earlier this year when both permanent and temporary workers tried to form a workers' union. The 310 contract workers pooled together Rs 4, 65,000 of the total Rs 5,76,000 funds collected with the aim of registering a union. Both permanent and contract workers went on a strike on February 18 and then in March for a day each. “We participated in the strikes and stopped production. Permanent workers promised to negotiate on our behalf, but the company negotiated with them and dismissed us,” said 28-year old Satosh Kumari, a B.A. (Political Science) graduate from Haryana who has worked at Asti since 2012.

Santosh and several other women workers in the company grey and blue uniforms have continued agitating at Asti Electronics' gate now for over a month. Workers from nearby plants of Maruti Suzuki India Limited, as well as 200 striking workers of Munjal Kiriu plant, too have attended the gate meetings and offered support.

“Increasing informalization and extremely precarious terms of work have created a latent militancy among workers. Contract workers do similar work as permanent workers and yet cannot get comparable wages or benefits. Women workers are even more vulnerable. We are still to see what will be the results of these ruptures,” said economist Ravi Srivastava, member of the National Commission for Enterprises in the Unorganized Sector (NCEUS) set up in 2004 as an advisory board on the informal employment sector, constituting 93 percent of the total workforce. 

The workers say they are uncertain of their future course but remain defiant. “Sometimes even our families question us. We tell them we are right, we will not back down,” said Pushpa, as the gate meeting gets over.

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