What is Happening in Pricol?

All India Central Council of Trade Unions (AICCTU)

The unfortunate death of the Vice President of the Human Resources Development Department of Pricol Ltd is regrettable indeed. Coming one year after the Graziano incident in Greater Noida in which the local head of an Italian firm had reportedly been beaten to death by sacked employees, it has evoked a lot of passionate comments and demands from the corporate world. Even as workers are being arrested in large numbers and leaders are being framed, employers are demanding a ban on trade union struggles and sections of the corporate media are advocating labour reforms to give a completely free hand to employers.

A single day’s tragic incident is now being deliberately sought to be used to prejudice public opinion against the Pricol workers and suppress the truth of the nearly one thousand days of their united and determined struggle. Among other basic things, a key demand of Pricol workers has been for the recognition of their unions which enjoy the support of the overwhelming majority of workers while the management has been constantly pressurizing workers to withdraw from the road of struggle and sever ties with the ‘Marxist-Leninist’/’Maoist’ leadership.

In this long struggle of Pricol workers, the government of Tamil Nadu has repeatedly censured the Pricol management. The state government has issued three advices, passed one government order (GO) prohibiting the continuance of lockout, passed three GOs ordering references, passed two orders under section 10B of the Industrial Disputes Act (ID Act) 1947.

On 29th of July 2009 the state Labour Minister, while replying to a calling attention motion moved on the floor of the assembly by AIADMK, PMK, Congress, CPI, CPI(M), catalogued the various unfair labour practices indulged in by Pricol Ltd, and stated that the workers had given up their indefinite fast which had been continuing for the 15th day as their demands were accepted by the government. He further assured that the government would not let the workers down.

Have things completely changed in a few months and more particularly on a single day with the unfortunate death of an executive? In the heat and passion generated by this tragic incident, can we allow rational reasoning to become a casualty?

Mr George’s Unfortunate Death was Neither Preplanned Nor the Result of Conspiracy

Mr Kumarasami addressed the general body meeting and one office bearers’ meeting on 19 and 20 September 2009. As a practising labour lawyer in the Madras High Court for nearly three decades and AICCTU’s national and state president, he is conducting all the Pricol cases in Madras High Court as well as the Supreme Court. Going to Coimbatore basically to reassure the workers not to worry about the delay, as the Pricol case would be coming up for hearing on the 29th of September before the Madras High Court, he categorically cautioned the workers not to get provoked by any vindictive action of the management. He also proposed a padayatra from Coimbatore to Chennai to highlight the demand for a trade union recognition Act and several other burning issues of the toiling people. It was also planned to celebrate the 1000th day of the struggle to positively counter the frustration being caused by the delay in legal struggles and the recalcitrant attitude of the management.

Can by any stretch of the imagination these proposals to impart a stronger mass political dimension to the protracted struggle of Pricol workers be construed to be part of any conspiracy, ‘Maoist’ or otherwise?

In this connection it would not be out of place to remember that just the other day, Naresh Goyal of Jet Airways called his pilots who formed a union ‘terrorists’. And he withdrew the terrorist label and embraced them as prodigal sons as soon as they returned to work, leaving aside the issue of union for the time being.

It Will Be Better If the TN Police Consults the TN Labour Department on Pricol Ltd:

Pricol’s track record in the arena of industrial relations has been notorious. Rampant violation of labour laws, court verdicts and government orders has been the trademark of the Pricol management.

• There are vindictive transfers.
• There is refusal to engage in collective bargaining in good faith with the majority union.
• There are illegal partial lockouts.
• There are break-in-service orders.
• There are stoppages of increments.
• More than 1000 employees are terminated.
• There is illegal deduction of wages and incentives running into crores of rupees.
• The management has promised to pay all these withheld dues if the workers leave the unions.
• There is employment of apprentices and contract labour contrary to certified standing orders and the Contract Labour (Abolition and Regulation) Act, 1970.
• Now there is the recent dismissal of 44 workers without any domestic enquiry.

In almost all these issues the state government has intervened under sections 10 (1), 10(3) and 10 B of the ID act 1947.

In fact Comrade Kumarasami was trying to get the Labour Minister convene a meeting at the earliest to resolve the simmering discontent and this fact is known to the Labour Department.

The management does not want Comrade Kumarasami to defend the Pricol workers in the High Court as well as the Supreme Court on the 29th of September and other subsequent dates. This is the main reason for implicating Comrade Kumarasami, the national president of a centrally recognised trade union.

Respect Industrial Democracy, Stop Witch Hunt Against Pricol Workers

If lawyers and TU leaders who defend and guide the workers are framed in conspiracy cases as during British days, the government will only be sending a loud message: “No healthy, strong collective bargaining will be allowed. Industrial relations are back to the pre-1926 colonial days.”

Should we allow the unfortunate death of Mr. George to be turned into a weapon for witch-hunt of workers and suppression of trade union rights – instead of treating it as a poignant issue for remedial action? Let the unfortunate incident motivate all parties to take remedial measures that will help resolve the real underlying issues.

With the Trade Unions Act coming into force from 1926, the country had gradually moved away from lawlessness to the rule of law by instituting a system of collective bargaining. If employers like Pricol Ltd. are allowed to violate the law and make use of an unfortunate death to go in for a witch-hunt, implicating leaders in false cases, and suppressing basic trade union rights, will that not be only sending out the message that there is no place for laws and effective trade unions in independent India in the days of globalisation?

TN government and central government should not act on the basis of one-sided corporate hue and cry. TN government should come to the aid of Pricol workers, their families and their leaders, as it has promised on the floor of the assembly. We appeal to all trade unions and progressive and democratic sections of society who believe in the dignity of labour and rights of workers to support the struggle of Pricol workers and express solidarity by calling upon the TN government to stop the ongoing witch hunt and force the arbitrary Pricol management to respect industrial democracy and implement government orders.

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