M A I N   N E W S

Life on the edges - IV
United they lose, divided they survive
Ruchika M. Khanna
Tribune News Service

Ludhiana, September 27
Success seems to have eluded the thousands of labourers, who have brought worldwide acclaim to Ludhiana as a premier industrial city. Deprived of the statutory minimum wages and standard working conditions, these labourers are now facing a stiff resistance from the industrialist lobby, against organising themselves into unions.

Though most of the factory labourers have decided to form labour unions, strangely, it takes years to get them registered. Most of the time, the names of office-bearers of the unions are passed on to the factory owners, who find one or the other pretext to dismiss them.

This gives the labour department a perfect excuse to delay the registration of unions as the office-bearers of the applicant unions are no longer employees of the factory.

In extreme cases, the factory owners also resort to closing down their industry by projecting it as a loss-maker. With the connivance of the labour department officials, these labourers are shown the door with some monetary compensation.

This done, the industry again surreptitiously starts its operations by hiring contractual labour, though in paper it remains a closed unit. A top bicycle manufacturer at Dhandari Kalan near here, which closed down some of its units in November last year, is still manufacturing goods in these ‘closed units’ by hiring contractual labour.

Another leading cycle-manufacturer in Industrial Area B here projected its units as making huge losses, once the labour union was formed here. Recently he closed down these units after issuing a notice to its employees.

The city has an industrial labour workforce of about 10 lakh, and over the past two years, about 3000 employees from seven leading industrial houses have been shown the door, after they tried to form unions.

Industrialists, on the other hand, justify their stand against the formation of labour unions on the pretext that it would adversely affect industrial production and bring the fast-paced industry here to a grinding halt. “Look at what happened in Honda unit at Gurgaon. The labour union there virtually brought the company on its knees. Most of the big industrial houses are giving all due benefits to their workers. The unions, if formed, will indulge in arm-twisting of their managements,” says a leading bicycle parts manufacturer in the city who wants anonymity.

In most of the industrial houses, the workers whose employment is not shown in the factory’s records, have been issued attendance cards. Interestingly, these cards do not carry the name of the employer or the address of the factory.

It just carries the worker’s name and his attendance is marked on these cards. “These cards are presented to the manager at the end of each month who then calculates the working days of the employees and then pays them accordingly,” says Jai Prakash, an employee in a world-renowned export unit of woolen garments here, while showing his own attendance card.

In most industrial units, more than 50 per cent workers are not entitled to any of the benefits like employees provident fund, gratuity and entitlements under ESI,’ explains Bhagmani Devi, an employee of a leading hosiery here, who along with 460 other employees was recently charge-sheeted and thrown out.

“Industrialists, too, have formed a joint forum against any labour uprising. Most of the industries here, including top hosiery exporters, practise unfair labour practices like not paying overtime, hiring employees but not getting this employment in their own records etc.

“In some factories, they force the workers to go on long leave so that they are unable to complete 240 days of regular service and the management does not have to pay gratuity to these employees. Bonus is shown as given in the factory records only,” says Mr Jagdish Chand, President of Ludhiana unit of Centre of Industrial Trade Unions (CITU), which is at the forefront of the labour uprising in the city. He alleges that the labour laws and department officials are tilted in favour of the employers, rather than the employees.




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