Workers of North Chennai Plant of MRF India, the leading tyre manufacturer in India, have been on relay hunger fast since 2nd of February protesting the intimidation and delay tactics of the management in finalizing the next wage agreement. Venkatesh, Joint secretary of the union and who has been fasting for the past 12 days said “The previous wage agreement expired in June 2013 and since then management has been delaying our negotiation both bilaterally and trilaterally(including Labour Department). We have had to take recourse to a legal means which is also being delayed due to management tactics. This hunger fast is to bring attention to our needs and to the tactics of the management”.

Workers protesting in front of the gate were not allowed to distribute pamphlets - Police in front of MRF union officeWorkers protesting in front of the gate were not allowed to distribute pamphlets – Police in front of MRF union office

The North Chennai Plant is the oldest plant of MRF India and is one of the 7 plants in the nation. Workers say that even though their plant is one of the oldest, their wages are not on par with other plants in India. They are demanding a wage increment of Rs 10000, wage agreement to be negotiated every 3 years instead of 4 years as currently practised, and retrospective wage increment from the end date of the previous wage agreement. Currently with the management delaying every wage agreement by atleast 12 to 18 months and providing wage increment only from the date of the new wage agreement, they workers say that the wage agreement’s duration runs to over 6 years.

With the management unwilling to reach the agreement, the union has taken the issue to judiciary for resolution. However the workers say that since the case has been filed, workers have been intimidated at worksite. For one, the production in the plant have been reduced causing workers’ wages which is still calculated on hourly rate to be reduced. Warnings, suspension and dismissals have been frequent, with 6 workers dismissed and 4 workers suspended so far.

The fate of other workers in the company are worse say the workers. The company had over 160 trainees and after keeping them as trainees on a daily wage of Rs 100 per day for over 4 years, the company is said to have sacked them. The union has taken this issue to the court as well. The 500+ contract workers who are in ancillary work do not have the same amenities and PF as provided to permanent workers. The company has been pushing for contract workers in core production and reduction of permanent workforce, which the union is resisting. The transportation for workers has been a problem with the death of workers from both North Chennai plant and Arokkonam plant en route to the work. Workers say that for the worker from North Chennai plant who died in December, the management refused to pay compensation. The union offered to pay a contribution of Rs 1000 per worker to be matched by the management which is still pending.

The 1100 permanent workers of the oldest plant of MRF are part of one of the 54 year old union in Tamil Nadu. Prabhakar, Secretary of the union said the workers have been responsible for creating a wealth of over 18000 crore revenue for the company from a Rs10000 investment in 1969 but have to struggle for their right to fair wages every single time. What has particularly riled the workers is MRF’s sponsoring of Rs 500 crore to the ongoing world cup cricket match while the workers’ lives seem to be day to day survival. According to cricket buzz, the MD and chairman of MRF has stated:”With this association, MRF Ltd, further re-affirms their passion and commitment for the game of cricket both in the national and international arena.” One wonders if MRF will ever affirm its commitment to its workers who has toiled for the company!