Workers on War Path in Uttarakhand

Workers’ organized agitations are once again emerging in SIDCUL, Pantnagar (Uttarakhand). This industrial area is an important production centre of well-known auto manufacturing companies like Tata, Mahindra, Bajaj, etc. Recognition of trade unions has become a central issue for the workers here.

Three workers’ leaders from Mahindra were removed illegally after the workers in the company registered their union. In protest, the workers sat on a dharna in front of the DM’s office for 65 days. Other unions in this industrial area also stood in their support. In the end the district administration and the company management both had to take back this step and reinstate all the three workers in their jobs.

Meanwhile, some active union leaders in the pharmaceutical company VHV Mediscience were removed from their jobs on the vindictive pretext that ‘khaini (tobacco) was found in their pockets’. These workers have also been agitating for the past two months and their dharna is on at the DM’s office. Under pressure from the agitation the district administration has passed the order for their reinstatement and seizure of the company in case of non-compliance, but this has so far been a futile exercise as the administration is not really willing to take any concrete action against the company. The workers’ struggle continues.

When the workers started the process of union registration in a heavy engineering industry, Mittar Fasteners (manufacturers of nut-bolts), the management removed the entire working committee of the union from their jobs by slapping false charges on them. During the suspension period all the union leaders were harassed through a domestic inquiry in Haldwani which is 40 km away from the workplace. On 6 December 2015 the company arbitrarily announced a one-month closure of the press shop, welding shop, and tool room. Subsequently on 6 January 2016, 34 workers, who were union members, were illegally laid off. The management is claiming in the labour office that the factory is ‘closed’ and thus putting pressure on the workers to ‘voluntarily’ submit their resignations. On the other hand, new workers have been hired from the very next day (7 January) to work in the departments which are shown as ‘closed’. Moreover, the Uttarakhand labour office has not given the workers a copy of the investigation report on this alleged ‘closure’; and this is happening when the Chief Minister Harish Rawat is well aware of labour matters, having been Union Labour Minister before he became Chief Minister of Uttarakhand. Perhaps he is using his previous experience to foster the interests of corporate companies. Earlier in 2015 the workers of this factory had gone on strike twice, and both times they were suppressed. Now they have been carrying on daily protests at the Labour office in Rudrapur for over a month.

Delphi TVS is a company which makes fuel engines and pumps for Tata Motors. More than 80% of the workers employed here are highly skilled diploma holders. But the company appointed them as ‘trainees’ in order to evade having to give full wages and other legal rights. All these workers work in the main production line. After making them ‘trainees’ for3 to 4 years they were given letters of probation, which in turn followed by the letters of fixed term employees (for 2, 3, or 8 years), whereas trainees should be employed under the Workers Apprentice Act which the company did not do. As per the labour law, workers who successfully complete the probation period are considered regular workers. But the company deceived the workers and acted abbitrarily; the ‘standing order’ of the company was illegally written and passed, which is being used to deprive the workers of their rights. This is the trick which has become the regular practice all over the country today. What is shocking is that even the DLC, Labour Commissioner and ALC are taking recourse to this illegal ‘standing order’ whereas they take no interest in implementing the agreement done with the workers or their own administrative powers for the rightful benefits to the workers.

The talks between the Labour Office and the Delphi TVS management were inconclusive; but meanwhile the workers registered their union and affiliated themselves to AICCTU. Subsequently in November and December a new phase of talks took place in the district labour office during which the management themselves asked for a charter of demands and simultaneously issued a threat that all the workers should join the ‘pocket union’ of the management functioning in the mother plant at Chennai, while asserting that they would not give recognition to the newly registered union although most of the workers in the factory are members of this union. Finally, after the failure of the talks the union gave an official notice of a strike on 18 December 2015. The very next day the management locked the company gates and issued a threat to all the workers that this lock-out (which is illegal) would be removed only when they joined the Chennai union. Clearly, all this was going on with the connivance of the district administration and the Uttarakhand government. Out of fear 7 workers signed the letter for joining the Chennai union but the remaining 121 workers were not willing to leave their own union and they immediately went on a protest at the DM’s office.

The Delphi workers’ agitation for the recognition of their union has filled workers in this whole industrial area with a sense of anger and outrage. The DM’s office has become the centre for workers’ rallies. Daily at the end of shifts in various companies the workers started arriving at the dharna venue. The workers also took out candle light marches to the Bhimrao Ambedkar statue situated in Rudrapur city and underlined the fact that denial of recognition to the union is a violation of citizens’ right enshrined in the Constitution.

In this process, 27 unions of the Sidcul area jointly took out a huge rally on 5 January and submitted a memorandum to the Chief Minister. After this pressure started to be built to either break or end the agitation from the DM's office itself and section 144 was imposed in the DM office complex which had become the centre of workers’ protests. The union then shifted its dharna venue to the Labour Officer’s office and came back to the DM’s office after a week when the Section 144 was lifted.

The Delphi workers’ agitation is still on. Activists from all political parties are coming to the venue to express support. The workers are visiting neighbouring areas also either on foot or on their cycles to gather support for their struggle.

SIDCUL workers also held a solidarity dharna on 18 January in support of eight PRICOL workers who are imprisoned after awarding them sentence for to two life terms in Coimbatore.

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