Over 300 workers booked in Malerkotla for demanding full wages

From Kashmir to Punjab and Gujarat, reports of workers not being paid their dues are emerging


After tension arose in the industrial area of Malerkotla town late last night as some migrants working at Arihant Spinning Mill held a protest to demand full wages for the lockdown period outside the premises and allegedly threw stones at the civil and police officers, over 300 were booked on Tuesday for lockdown violations and other offences, cited various media reports. It was reported that many were not wearing masks and not following social distancing.

While some workers said they got injured in police lathicharge, including some women, the Malerkotla SDM Vikramjeet Panthey, DSP Sumit Khanna and a police officer also sustained minor injuries in stone pelting by workers, reported The Indian Express.

Over 300 workers protested outside the mill on Monday night, alleging that they hadn’t been paid full wages, but they were kept inside the unit during the entire lockdown period. They also said that they weren’t being allowed to move out of the unit and were even being forced to buy essential commodities from the factory’s canteen at high rates.

One of them said, “If someone would fall sick, they used to give medicine without any medical examination. Many of us have been given less salary. We have not been given any reason for deducting our salary.”

A protester alleged, “We are working for 12-16 hours, but still we are not being paid in full. Besides, the grocery items are being sold at higher rates at the mill’s canteen. But officers get the same items at fair price,” The Tribune reported.

SDM Vikramjeet Panthey said he went to pacify them, but a few of them started pelting stones. “I got injured on my hand,” he said.

On Tuesday morning, post the incident, a meeting was arranged between the workers and government officials. However, due to no union representation, they were having difficulties in coming to a consensus. The SDM said, “We are trying to resolve the issue. Talks are still on.”

However, when asked about the lathicharge, SSP Dr. Sandeep Garg said that he wasn’t aware about any such incident.

Company statement

The Arihant Spinning Mill is owned by the Vardhaman Group. Late Tuesday evening, Vardhaman released a statement saying that, “a handful of workers…created unrest on Monday evening when they were denied wages for the period they had absented and did not come for work.”

The Malerkotla unit had taken permission from the local administration and restarted work there on April 11, during the lockdown period, and the workers were kept inside as per condition of administration.  

Neeraj Jain, director of the mill, refuted the allegations and claimed that no salary cut had been introduced. “We have paid salaries to all employees as per their working hours. We have never received any complaint about overcharging at the canteen. Still if they have any problems, we can sort these out after talks,” said Jain.

The statement added that on the resumption of manufacturing operations, around 1,350 workmen who were staying inside the factory complex were called to work. About 64 per cent of these workers were present on all days of work and were paid full wages based on the actual number of days worked. About 20 per cent were absent for 1-2 days while the rest were absent for more than 2 days and some of them even absent for up to 15-17 days. All those who remained absent were paid wages based on their actual attendance. All of them were paid for the days of plant shutdown on the basis of average attendance during the last three months, the statement said.

The management also paid workers who were available but could not be called for work due to restrictions on the same basis of average attendance in last three months, said the statement.

“The grievance came from a handful of workers who had been absent for more than 2 days and some of them even for 15-17 days on the ground that they have got lesser wages even though it is purely on account of neglect on their part,” added the statement.

Vardhman claimed to have followed a “just and fair approach”, and asked the workers to inform the unit management if anyone feels their wages are less.

Similar anguish across the country.  

On Friday, May 9, a protest by Chenab Textile Mills (CTM) workers turned violent in Jammu and Kashmir’s Kathua district. A large number of people were seen protesting at the site, demanding payment of their full salaries, NDTV reported. The workers protesting claimed that the police resorted to lathi-charge, hitting everyone including children following which the people here had to pelt stones.

Last month, after a paper mill allegedly refused to remit wages to several daily wagers from various parts of the union territory and other states, the disgruntled employees staged a protest outside the mill in Kathua district, the Hindustan Times reported.

The daily wagers alleged that the mill management threw them out of the premises and refused to pay them their pending wages of two to three months.

In Gujarat, around 40 workers, most of them migrants, gathered outside the Indian Oil Corporation Limited (IOCL) refinery in Vadodara, on May 12, to protest a delay in their wages. The workers were employed by Bridge and Roof (B and R), a semi-government firm for the construction of a new unit at Koyali for the IOCL. The matter was resolved after police intervention, reported The Indian Express.

As per an official statement released by IOCL, payments of contract workmen will be verified and cleared within the next couple of days. The refinery management has also asked the contract workers to resume work as project activities are restarting.

The plight of workers all over the country is disheartening. At first, they were dependent on the states and had to fend for money and food from civil society and human rights organizations and find a way to reach the safety of their homes in villages. They walked on foot and some died during the journey. When trains and buses were start to ferry them home, they themselves had to manage the sky high ticket fare. And now, when the states realized their need, they were forced into staying back so that the powerful industry owners could earn profits off their labour. Stories of the delays in their wages and non-payment of dues just go to show the level of apathy that still prevails in the society towards those who shoulder our economy.



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