India: The dispute at Graziano – a chronology of events

Here we provide a day-by-day chronology of how the dispute at Graziano Trasmissioni started and developed over a period of months. What emerges the brutal treatment of workers and the terrible wages and working conditions they have had to suffer. This report is based on an interview with two workers at Graziano Trasmissioni.

Photo by Ray Wittlin/World Bank is of another factory. The company had started its operations in Noida, UP, in 2003 with capital of less than 20 crore rupees (200 million) which grew to more than 240 crores (2.4bn) in 2008. This extraordinary accumulation of wealth is the result of the super-exploitation of the workers employed in the plant. Lalit Kishore Chaudhary, its CEO was instrumental in the setting up and development of the company.

Industrial activity in the plant continued round the clock, initially over two 12-hour shifts, i.e. 6 am to 6 pm and then 6 pm to 6 am. Although the legal working day was limited to 8 hours and the workers were paid overtime for the additional 4 hours, the overtime was made compulsory for the workers. And no weekly days off were allowed. Those refusing to comply were thrown out.

Initially 350 permanent workers were employed as Operators cumsettlers, with 80 Trainees/apprentices. About 500 worked under the labour contractors mostly on the job of packaging.

The very first dispute arose because the employers were in the habit of making deductions from the wages on false pretexts.

2/3 December 2007 - The first protest of the workers started over a demand for a rise in wages and against deductions of wages by the employers on the grounds that the entry card was not properly punched. It was claimed that this was due to a technical fault in the punching system, while subsequent punchings in the rest of the day were duly recorded, yet the employers in order to harass the workmen deducted from the wages anyway, on this false pretext. The workers protested.

Getting wind of the workers being organized, striving to form a union, three workers were barred by the employers from entering the premises and one, Manoj Kumar, was sacked. Management refused to recognize the union, while the authorities at Kanpur kept the application of the workers pending in collusion with the employers.

4 December 2007 - Protesting against the high-handedness of the employers, 100 more workers were locked out by pasting a notice of lockout outside the gate.

7 December 2007 - A settlement was reached between the parties, only to be repudiated by the employers later on. The workers' protest continued.

AITUC, the Trade Union Front of the CPI, to which the workers remain affiliated, agrees with management to restore normalcy first and then negotiate, which the workers reject. After this AITUC abandons the workers.

24 January 2008 - In the face of the struggle of the workers, the employers are forced to enter into a written settlement with them, in the presence of DLC, Noida etc. Five elected representatives participate on behalf of the workers, among them - Rajender, Kailash Joshi, Pankesh Sharma, Ram Charan and Mohinder. A homogenous wage revision is agreed with an increase of Rs. 1200/- for the current year, Rs.1000/- for the second year and Rs.800/- for the third year.

February 2008 - However, immediately after this settlement, the employers brought in 400 workers under the local contractors, namely Virendra Bhati, Manish and one Bhardwaj. These contractors, with a force of 400 at their disposal, started to bully the workers. Since June 2008, these 400 workers started to reside inside the factory premises. The said contractors had also gathered iron rods, sticks and other weapons inside the premises, to terrorize the workers and obviously to deal with the agitating workers, if need be. Apart from this a whole battalion of armed goons in the name of 'security' was also employed under the contractor. It thus became clear that the employers were planning to throw out the permanent workers and wanted to replace them with these contract workers.

May 2008 - Seeking to provoke a dispute with the workers, the employers refused to employ five worker trainees/apprentices and expelled them from the premises on the pretext that they handled the job of ‘settling' machine without instructions. It is pointed out that no such written instructions for the ‘settling' job were given to anyof the workers. The same was part of ordinary job duties. The workers thus insisted that from then onwards instructions for ‘settling' jobs be issued in writing. The workers also demanded that the five ousted workers be taken back on job.

Instead of taking the five workers onto the rolls, the employers suspended 27 more workers. Production Manager Amar Singh Baghel was also ousted on the charge of being in collusion with workers.

The employers had intentionally switched off the reverse exhaust fans inside the workshop, which resulted in a huge increase in indoor temperature. To ensure that no workman could even take a breath during duty hours, CCTV cameras were installed, and any violators were immediately ousted.

The workers protested the aforesaid unfair labour practices and made complaints to the concerned authorities but without any result. The authorities acted hand in hand with the employers. The workers also demanded 3 shifts of 8 hours instead of two of 12 hours each. But it was as if everything was falling on the deaf ears of employers and competent authorities.

30-31 May 2008 - A disturbance started on the instigation of Virender Bhati, the local muscleman of the employers, undercover of the contractor. A totally false police complaint was lodged bythe employers against the workers for affray, and 30 more of them were locked out. The workers would only be released after depositing personal bonds of Rs.1,00,000/- (One Lakh) each, with the SDM NOIDA, which is a very unusual and extremely high amount.

19 June 2008 - Instead of paying any heed to the legitimate grievances of the workers, and in order to harass and terrorize the workers, 35 more of them were locked out. With this a total of 97 workers had been ousted, while 192 of the permanent workers continued inside. By this time the workers had affiliated to the CITU, the Trade Union Front of the CPI(M), which agreed to the proposal of the employers that first of all normalcy should be restored and protests outside the gate be ended, and then after one month the employers would consider reinstating the workers. The workers did not agree to this and thus CITU also abandoned the workers. However, the protest of the workers continued.

In the meantime the workers affiliated to HMS, the Trade Union front of Rashtriya Lok Dal, with one Virender Sirohi as their leader.

1 July 2008 - A meeting between the employers and HMS took place in the DLC office, in which Sirohi agreed to normal working on 2nd, 3rd and 4th July, 2008.

2 July 2008 - The employers instead of complying, locked out the remaining 192 workmen. The workers are forced to resume their protest. Dharna [sort of a hunger strike] in the DLC office for 7 days, 3 days before the DM office, a march on-foot from Surajpur Chowk to the DM office and finally a dharna on the Italian embassy is organized, but the entire machinery remains totally insensitive towards the cause of the workers.

Several times the dispute is negotiated at the DLC office or the police station, but only to be repudiated by the employers on one or other pretext or intrigue.

11 July 2008 - Settlement is arrived at DLC, Noida Office, in the presence of the SDM and CO Dadri.

13 July 2008 - The workers present themselves at the factory pursuant to the settlement and to show their bona fide attitude. The next meeting is fixed at the DLC office for 16.7.2008.

16 July 2008 - Of the 27 suspended workers the employers only reinstate 12, while they terminate the services of 15 workers. This was apparently a device to divide and crush the workers, one by one. 55 more were notified that they would be reinstated, but were locked out the very next day on the pretext of coming late at 9 am instead of 6 am. The employers also obtained an injunction form the Court preventing workers from agitating within 300 metres of the Factory premises.

The Labour Commissioner came to Ghaziabad from Kanpur. The workers met him and complained about the partial and callous attitude of the DLC, Noida. The Commissioner entrusted the matter to the DLC, Ghaziabad.

4 September 2008 - A meeting of the parties in DLC office, Ghaziabad took place.

16 September 2008 - Another meeting in DLC, Ghaziabad office between employers and HMS took place. None of the elected representatives of the workmen was present in the meeting. It was agreed that the workers would tender an apology. The DLC, Noida directed the workers to tender an apology on or before 22.9.2008.

18 September 2008 - The workers go to tender their apology but the employers tell them that they would call the workers on 22.9.2008. The DLC refuses to take the apology in his office.

22 September 2008 ‑ As the workers gather to tender their apology, they are told that two workers at a time would go inside the ‘time office' to tender the apology. Inside the time office, armed security and local goons had already taken up their positions. The workers are told to specifically admit in their apology that they had indulged in sabotage and violence. Some workers write this down, but some refuse. Anil Sharma, the time officer, slaps one of the workmen for refusing to write the apology down in the desired format. A scuffle starts and the workman is beaten up by the security personnel.

On hearing the commotion, the workmen present outside enter the time office. Unable to prevent the workmen, one of the Managers orders the security and goons present inside to attack the workmen. They attack and a security man opens fire on the workmen. Several workmen, about 34, are injured in the scuffle.

Jagmohan Sharma, SO, Bisrakh Police Station, remained present with force but did not intervene on the behest of the employers who had conspired to beat up the workmen. SO has since been suspended for dereliction of duty.

People from both sides were then rounded up by the local police, but those on the side of employers were let go while the workers were kept in custody. Later, it transpired that the CEO of the company had also received one head injury, allegedly in the scuffle, which proved fatal to his life. It is also stated that some of the goons engaged by the employers to deal with the workmen, had double-crossed, and acting on behest of some rival industrialists had killed the CEO, taking advantage of the chaos created by the employers.

However, the employers, who were desperate to dismiss the regular workmen, took the opportunity to implicate the workmen in the murder and thereby get rid of them. The local capitalists, corporate media, bureaucracy, all avowed enemies of working class, united to defame the workers and implicate them. 63 workers have been implicated for conspiring and participating in the killing of the CEO while 74 others have been implicated for rioting, affray etc.

2 October 2008 - The workers staged a sit-in protest at Jantar Mantar against their victimization.

16 October 2008 - Another protest in support of the workers was planned at Jantar Mantar on behest of the labour organizations in Delhi.

Please visit Graziano Workers' Solidarity Forum and send solidarity messages to grazianoworkerssolidarity@yahoo.com


Petition by Graziano Workers' Solidarity Forum:

To

The Minister of Labour,

Government of India,

Shram Shakti Bhawan, New Delhi

Subject:  Repression upon the workers of Graziano Trasmissioni in Noida.

Hon'ble Sir,

We, the various labour and social organizations, NGOs and individual social activists in and around Delhi, having come together under the banner of "Graziano Workers' Solidarity Forum", with all humility represent to you as under:

We want to attract your attention towards the repression being launched against the workers of Graziano Trasmissioni at Noida, by the local administration and police in connection with the death of the CEO of the said company. This is apparently being done by the authorities in collusion with the Employers, not only of Graziano but of the entire Noida. It seems that the employers there want to settle accounts with the workers, and for this purpose are misusing the machine of the state.

We draw your humble attention to the fact that it is the same authorities who did not pay any heed to the very genuine and legitimate grievances of the workers for more than a year. The prayer of the workers for registration of their Trade Union, which is their statutory right, was kept pending for long. Neither did the employers recognize the Union nor did the department of labour permit it to be registered.

While the State authorities connived in depriving the workers of their minimum and modest rights, the employers went on exploiting the workers without challenge. Graziano Trasmissioni could thus earn super profits. The capital of 20 crore [200 million Rs.] invested by this company in 2004 grew over to 240 crore [2,400 million Rs.] in 2008. This could happen only through super-exploitation of the labour of poor workers. All peaceful protests of workers had fallen on deaf ears of the authorities. The employers, however, did everything in their control to crush the protests of workers, from suspension, lockout to outright terminations.

The unfortunate incident of 22nd September, cannot be made a tool to crush the workers further. The false charge being mischievously attributed by the police to the workers, of alleged conspiracy to harm the CEO, is beyond comprehension. There is no history of workers in Graziano of resorting to violence, much less a conspiracy. Moreover, the workers could not have expected any gain through such act. It is also underlined that even the wife of the CEO Smt. Ratna, who is a well educated lady, has herself claimed that the killing of the CEO is the result of conspiracy by the rival business groups, from whom the CEO, Mr. L. K. Chaudhary himself had been expressing apprehension, immediately before his elimination.

We would also like to point out here, that according to our knowledge the dispute between the workers and management had already been settled amicably and thus there was hardly any occasion for the workers to enter into a tussle. Yet another side of the matter is that it has appeared more than once in the media that some rival business factions may be behind the elimination of the CEO. Be that as it may, the charge against the workers of conspiracy to kill the CEO is not only misplaced but also mischievous.

We apprehend, on the contrary, a conspiracy on the part of the employers in Noida, hand in hand with the police, to drown the peaceful and legitimate struggle of the workers in violence and blood and thereby vitiate the industrial atmosphere in Noida for the time to come. It is not the repression upon the workers, but a process of conciliation among the parties, which may help to restore the congenial atmosphere in Noida.

The Government cannot permit itself to be used as a tool at the behest of those who have the might of millions in their hands and cannot be turned into a vehicle of vested interests against the toiling workers. It goes without mention that Noida and its vicinity, Delhi included, is saturated with these toilers. The apparent bias of the state authorities against the workers, with an indifference towards their sufferings in the past and present, would result in perpetuating an environment of unwarranted hostility in the entire region.

We, therefore, humbly present the following demands before Your kind self:

1. Arrested workers to be released immediately and the false charges imposed upon them to be withdrawn

2. Suspended and dismissed workers to be reinstated in their jobs.

3. Adequate compensation to be given to the victimized workers.

GRAZIANO WORKERS' SOLIDARITY FORUM

Note: For signatures, kindly see the annex.

 

S.NO.

NAME

ORGANISATION

SIGNATURES