The negotiation tactics of the ITI management and ITI Employees Union (IEU) have not deterred the company’s contract workers from continuing their protests outside the ITI factory gates. On August 2nd, the protest by the 80 contract workers who had been laid off during the lockdown in July 2020, entered its 245th day and looks set to continue till a settlement is reached.
Represented by the Karnataka General Labour Union (KGLU), the dismissed workers have been agitating since December 1, 2021 against the ITI’s “anti- workers policy”, which they say has denied them payment of two months salary prior to their dismissal, during the Lockdown and their provident fund and employees’ state insurance deposits. The workers add that about five years of bonus money too have been stalled.
Talking about the hardships and discrimination faced by the dismissed workers, Hemanth Kumar, president of KGLU said: “The ITI Employees’ Union comprises ITI’s permanent employees. The KGLU consists of 80 ousted ‘contract’ workers. Contract workers are always looked down upon. There is a difference in the pay we get, the TA/DA offered to us and most importantly, how we are treated. On the other hand, the IEU members are permanent employees.”
Bengaluru’s ITI is one of the few functional public sector undertakings; it manufactures telecommunication equipment, lays fibre optic cables for defence purposes in remote border locations and is involved in processing security and surveillance data.
The KGLU, formed in August 2020 and affiliated with the All India Central Council of Trade Unions (AICCTU) and Alternate Law Forum (ALT), has not left any stone unturned in its fight to get justice for the workers. The KGLU first went to the Regional Labour Commission (RLC) after which the case was transferred to the Regional Central Labour Commissioner (RCLC). Where it remained in limbo till May of this year.
In response to the ITI management’s appeal to the High Court in May, the case was transferred to the Centre for Advanced Mediation Practice (CAMP) headquartered in BTM Layout. Since then, five mediation sessions have been held so far. The first session was on May 18th, where via a video conference call, the Mediator Ms Laila Ollapally explained the mediation process to all parties – the ITI Employees’ Union (IEU), the KGLU and the ITI Management. On June 2nd, the Mediator met with the ITI Management to hear their arguments.
This was followed by another mediation session held on June 14th, when the Mediator heard both the ITI Management and the KGLU. It was decided that the IEU should also be present in future sessions. On July 7th, the mediator met with the KGLU which presented additional details of their case.
“There must have been sessions that the Mediator held with the IEU but we do not have any details about that,” said Hemanth Kumar. On July 26th, the Mediator summoned a session with the management, the KGLU and the IEU. But the IEU representatives did not turn up. It was then decided to reschedule the same meeting for August 1st. Again, the IEU did not show up and did not respond to calls from the Mediator.
“The ITI Employees’ Union has a few positive people who are willing to take us back,” said Hemanth Kumar. “But there are other people who oppose this. In fact, from what we understand, the management is willing to take us back, maybe in batches. But the IEU is opposing us.”
Considering the fact that the IEU seems unwilling to meet with the Mediator in the presence of the KGLU, the Mediator has scheduled a session on August 8 between the IEU and management. “As per the scheduled shared with us, the final decision will be made on August 10th about how many workers will be asked to reconvene in how many batches and on which dates,” Hemanth Kumar said.
Citizen Matters tried reaching out to representatives of the ITI Employees’ Union, Mahadev R and Shridhar N. After repeated calls, Mahadev R answered but only to say “no comments now. Call me after one week.”
“Our demands have not changed and remain the same since we started protesting eight months back,” adds Hemanth. “First, 80 members who were dismissed need to be taken back and offered the work they had been doing for the past several years. Secondly, all the backlog payment – the lockdown salary of two months (from March to May 2020) needs to be paid.” Hemanth also mentioned that the dismissed workers were denied overtime (OT) payment for Jan, Feb, March and June 2021. As well as salary arrears, owing to the increment in the salaries since the beginning of 2017, for 10 months from Jan-Oct 2017 have not been given.
“Most importantly, we are demanding at the mediation sessions that the 80 dismissed contract workers be paid salaries from December 2021, till date,” Hemanth added. Also on the list of demands is payment of eight months of Provident Fund (PF) from November 2020 to June 2021.
In July 2020, contract workers were asked to sign a new contract which said their salaries will be on the basis of their level of education and not on their years of experience. Hemanth explained the implications of this change: “Because some of us lacked formal educational, some “highly skilled” workers suffered a big decrease in their pay while their job profile remained the same.”
The KGLU looks forward to the August 10th session full of hope. “We have our families to feed,” said Hemanth. “But we’ll continue with the protest and religiously attend all Mediation sessions till our demands are met”.