Rabeeh Mohammed returned to his native district Kannur in Kerala at the end of 2019 after working in Dubai for 16 years. He started a hardware shop named SR Associates at Mathamangalam in the district in August 2021. However, he and his partner have had to shut their shop this month, allegedly owing to the opposition from the workers of the Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU). CITU is a trade union affiliated with the ruling CPI(M) in the state.
According to Rabeeh, the issue began when he started looking for workers to help load and unload goods for his shop. But, the rate demanded by the CITU workers for loading and unloading materials for his shop was very high, so Rabeeh decided to hire his own workers.
"If a new business to be a success, quality goods need to be sold at a cheaper price. This could be possible only if we can reduce other expenses like the wage of workers. There's a difference of six rupees between the wages sought by the other workers and the workers under CITU, even for unloading a packet of cement, " he said.
Rabeeh approached the Labour Department for issuing labour cards for the workers that he had hired for loading and unloading. However, Rabeeh alleges that the labour office never responded, and so he took the matter to court.
"After a court directive, labour cards were issued to the workers whom I hired and so they started working for me. However, members of the CITU began to oppose it. My only intention was to give things at a cheaper rate for customers, and I thought getting labours at a lesser cost would enable me to do that," Rabeeh told TNM.
In December, CITU workers began protesting in front of his shop. They set up a pandal and started a sit-in protest. Rabeeh alleged that they even began stopping customers from coming to his store, and kept sending them back.
Left with no choice, Rabeeh closed down his store on February 7. "It has been 50 days since any business was done and hence, I decided to wind up," he said, alleging that the CITU workers also threatened him, saying that they will â€˜beat him up and break his legâ€™.
Rabeeh also claimed that he had lodged a complaint with Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, Industries Minister MV Govindan, state police chief Anil Kanth and district police chief Ilango R in January, but there has been no response so far.
On Monday, February 14, Labour Minister V Sivankutty countered Rabeehâ€™s claims and said that his shop was closed as it didn't have the license from the Panchayat. However, Rabeeh denies this.
"An investor who would spend lakhs of money into a business is aware of the basic things like getting a licence. Why should he hesitate to get a license for Rs 1,000 or so?" Rabeeh asked.
With the issue making the news, Labour Minister V Sivankutty has now entrusted the Labour Commissioner to settle the issue amicably. This has given the entrepreneur some hope that he can restart his business.
This is not the first time there has been a confrontation with CITU workers. A similar incident was reported from the Pathanamthitta district of the state last month. An owner of a tiles shop had hired workers for loading and unloading as CITU workers were not always available. This attracted the wrath of the trade union who barged into the shop stopping its business.