Striking MRF workers arrested in Tamil Nadu (Second Lead)

May 20th, 2009 - 9:11 pm ICT by IANS  

Chennai, May 20 (IANS) Workers who have gone on strike at tyre major MRF’s Arakonam factory near here were arrested Wednesday evening.
“The police entered the factory and lathicharged the workers before arresting them. They also arrested those agitating outside the factory,” G. Shankar, a leader of the striking MRF United Workers Union (UWU), told IANS from Arakonam.

Workers at the plant, along with a section of employees at the sister plant in neighbouring Puducherry, went on strike May 9 in protest against a wage agreement signed by the management with a rival labour union.

Wednesday marked the 12th day of the strike, with a lockout being declared at the Arakonam unit May 17. Production at both units has come to a standstill.

Only hours before the police action, the Madras High Court ordered the protestors at the two plants not to obstruct movement of personnel and materials.

The directive followed a petition filed by the company for their removal from the factory premises.

“The court, while granting a week’s time to file our counter, said ingress and egress of men and material should not be obstructed,” V. Prakash, senior counsel for UWU said.

The union leaders are now scheduled to meet senior labour department officials to discuss the issue.

The striking employees are also planning to surrender their ration and voter identify cards.

“It all depends on the management’s response. We plan to send fax messages to the governors and chief ministers of Tamil Nadu and Puducherry. After that, we will consult workers at both the plants about surrendering our ration and voter identity cards,” UWU president P.V. Paramasivam said.

“We are looking at democratic ways of agitation so as to turn the attention of the people and the government to our plight.”

The MRF workers have conjured up novel methods of protest since the strike started. They and their families boycotted the Lok Sabha elections, for which polling was held May 13.

D. Christopher, a labour leader at the Arakonam unit, told IANS the strikers were keeping a strict vigil outside the plant to prevent “miscreants” from entering the premises, damaging machinery and putting the blame on the protesters.

Formed in 2002, UWU wants the MRF management to hold a secret ballot to ascertain which union has a majority membership and negotiate only with it.

Paramasivam accused the management of signing a wage agreement with a rival union, which he claimed did not represent the majority of workers.

“On paper there will be a wage increase. But in reality, a worker will not get anything more than what he has been drawing now.”

Paramasivam said one of the union’s demands was wage parity with that of the company’s Thiruvottiyur plant workers, where the monthly wage is around Rs.18,000.

MRF spokesperson Koshy Varghese was not available for clarifications despite repeated attempts by IANS to contact him. No other person is authorised to comment on loss figures and other issues on behalf of the company.

MRF has plants in Chennai, Arakonam, Puducherry, Kottayam (Kerala), Medak (Andhra Pradesh) and Goa.

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