Lockout At Bengal Textile Factory, 5,700 Jobs At Stake

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The workers of Jayashree Textiles factory, owned by the Aditya Birla group, have been on strike since June 4 demanding higher wages and the reinstatement of nine workers

For the first time since it was set up in 1949, a textile factory of the Aditya Birla group at Rishra in Hooghly district announced a lockout. The factory has 5,700 workers — 4,200 of them permanent. They make linen and linen yarn that sells under the Grasim brand.

The workers of Jayashree Textiles factory, owned by the Aditya Birla group, have been on strike since June 4 demanding higher wages and the reinstatement of nine workers who had been suspended for alleged violence against officers.

Since then, the management says they have incurred losses of Rs 16 crore and is set to lose another Rs 10 crore in export orders. But because of the threat of violence by some workers, the management has been forced to shut down. West Bengal labour minister Malay Ghatak tried to hammer out a compromise, but without success. rouble began May 31 when an officer was assaulted by a group of workers. He was injured in the hand with a knife. Five workers were suspended at once. But at 6 pm that day, the unions called a strike. The management says that since then there have been attempts to restore normalcy. But the workers have stuck to their stand — reinstate the five suspended on 4 June and nine others on January 7.

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"We want to stay invested in Bengal," said Ranjan Banerjee, the human resource manager at the Rishra unit. "We even invested Rs. 250 crore earlier this year in expansion, creating 820 jobs. Now we don't have an option but to lock out the factory. If the workers give us a written assurance of good conduct and agree to productivity-linked wages, we will be happy to reopen," the executive said.

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The workers want a hike in wages and are opposed to any productivity-linked wage. There are eight recognised unions at the factory. The most influential is the Indian Federation of Trade Unions or IFTU. Another recently formed union called PATUC has come up, reportedly with links to the BJP and the Naxal elements.

But the management claims there has to be productivity-linked wages in these competitive times. According to Ranjan Banerjee, while the Rishra factory employs 52 hands per 1,000 spindles, other Indian factories make do with 30 hands per spindle and the Chinese work with 22 hands per spindle.

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"We want to bring 52 down to 38 hands per spindle," he said.        

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