Striking MRF workers plan to return ration, voter cards

May 20th, 2009 - 4:34 pm ICT by IANS  

Chennai, May 20 (IANS) Striking workers at tyre major MRF’s Arakonam and Puducherry plants could surrender their ration and voter identify cards in protest against the wage agreement signed with a rival labour union.
The sit-in strike from May 9 at the two plants entered the 12th day Wednesday, with a lockout being declared at Arakonam May 17. Production at both units has come to a standstill.

“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,” said P.V. Paramasivam, president of MRF United Workers Union (UWU) that is spearheading the strike.

“And if the Madras High Court orders our removal from the two plants, we will agitate outside the company’s headquarters here,” Paramasivam told IANS.

“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 May 9 when the strike started.

Protesters and their families boycotted the Lok Sabha elections, for which polling was held May 13.

At Arakonam, food is cooked outside the factory and served to striking workers.

D. Christopher, the agitating union’s general secretary at the Arakonam unit, told IANS that strikers are keeping a strict vigil outside the plant to prevent “miscreants” from entering the plant, damaging the machinery and putting the blame on the protesters.

Formed in 2002, the 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 May 9 with another union, MRF Arakonam Worker’s Welfare Union (AWWU), which he claimed does 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, which makes tyres of two- and four-wheelers as well as trucks, has been facing labour problems for quite some time.

The labour problems first began at the Thiruvottiyur plant near here Dec 3, 2007, which led the state government to threaten a government takeover of the factory.

A year later, a lockout was declared at the Arakonam plant for three days from Dec 17, 2008 following further labour problems.

Lockout was also declared at Puducherry Feb 22-26 this year.

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

It is now setting up a car and truck radial tyre plant in Perambalur district in Tamil Nadu, while expanding its existing capacity at Arakonam. Both projects involve an outlay of Rs.900 crore, according to officials.

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