The women, some of who have worked at the company for more than 20 years, have been sitting on dharna since November 10.

Illegal closure of Bengaluru factory leaves women employees jobless overnight
news News Saturday, November 18, 2017 - 13:06

On Saturday, November 10, when the employees, mostly women, of OEN India Ltd arrived for work, they were surprised to see the factory gates closed. CCTV cameras were installed and security staff had been deployed by the company in the area.

The arbitrary shutdown ordered at the electronics switch relay manufacturing unit in the city’s Peenya industrial area has left the women in dire straits.

OEN India Ltd, which has its head office in Kochi, was established in Bengaluru in 1985. It has 71 employees in Bengaluru, 66 of them women. 

The OEN India Employees Union issued a note dated November 16, saying, “The company without any prior notice has closed down its factory at Peenya Indl. Area, under the pretext of “not viable”. The so-called closure is illegal and unjustified. The notice has been resorted to with mala fide intention to get rid of workmen fighting their cases in the Supreme Court and Industrial Tribunal for several years, with regard to improvement of their salary and other service conditions. This closure is intentional so as to escape the legal liability and deny the legitimate wage increases, bonus, and promotions, which are due to the workers for over six years. This Management used to extend the benefits on the lines given to the employees at their Cochin office but they have discontinued this practice since six years.”

The note is signed by the Union President KS Subrahmanya and the General Secretary Rajeevan VV.

Earlier, the closure notice of the company, dated November 10, stated, “This is to inform all concerned employees of this Unit of OEN India Limited (487 (A) IVth Phase, Peenya Industrial Area, Peenya, Bangalore - 560058, Karnataka) that the business results of the Unit have been showing decline and now a stage has reached where we are not in a position to run the unit in a viable manner, despite all efforts to ameliorate the situation. Therefore, the Management is constrained to take a painful decision to close down the Unit once and for all with effect from 10th November, 2017.” 

The notice is signed by the MD Pamela Anna Mathew and a copy has been sent to the Secretary, Labour Department, Govt of Karnataka, the Commissioner of Labour, the Addl. Labour Commissioner (Industrial Relations) and the Employment Exchange (Karnataka).

The women have been sitting on dharna ever since, demanding that the factory be reopened. Some of them have worked in the company for 20 to 30 years. Losing their jobs overnight has left them in a difficult situation. A protest demonstration was also held at 5 pm on November 16, in front of the factory.

Background

Some years back, a few employees went to court over the Dearness Allowance (DA) which had accumulated for 8-10 years and had not been paid. The case went all the way up to the Supreme Court with the ruling in favour of the employees.

Since then, it seems the company has been harbouring a grudge against the employees. Two executives were transferred to Pune, where there are two factories. Some employees have earlier been transferred to Kochi as well.

For the last eight to nine years, there has been no revision in salaries and cases are pending in the labour court.

There are Kannadigas, Tamils and Malayalis among those working here.

Treasurer of the Union, Saju D, told TNM, “The average age of the women is 40 years and above, with the oldest employee being around 53 years old. This illegal closure notice issued by the company has put their lives in misery.”

Saju said that the MD had promised a settlement but went back on her word. Even the HRD manager had said that they will arrive at a compromise but it didn’t happen. “In fact, a month back, when we spoke to the MD, she had promised a settlement regarding all the pending cases but this has come as a rude shock,” he said.

“When we spoke to the MD, she asked us to withdraw all the cases against the company. We told them that there are individual cases that have been filed and we can’t do anything about them.”

Saju says the company showed that they were running in loss which was not true.

“The property is worth at least Rs 15 crore and the management owns the building. Hence, they are least bothered about the work or the employees if the factory is shut,” he adds. 

He adds that variable DA kept increasing on a monthly basis and the company wanted to stop it. After a point, they stopped the increase, and paid only the fixed portion of the DA.

Around six to seven years ago is when the case was won in the Supreme Court, and the settlement was achieved in three to four years. Thereafter, he said, things went downhill.

“For the four employees who were transferred to Kochi, a sum of Rs 5 lakh each plus interest, amounting to a total of Rs 7 lakh, was given as compensation in an order passed by the labour court.”

“No salary revision for the last nine years and the existing benefits have been cut. Only minimum bonus is being paid and promotions have been stopped. Annual increment and fixed DA are the only things that are being given.”

He says that a notice of 60 days must be given for a company with 50 staff or more, but this has been bypassed. He adds, “The closure notice is an unexpected development. We have sent a letter to the MD through courier as well as email, asking for a response.”

“Many of the women who work in this factory face difficult circumstances. There are women who have lost their husbands, some of them are cancer patients and so on. Mostly, all of them are staying on rent and these jobs are important for their own survival as well as that of their families.”

Employees speak out

According to Pushpa, an employee who is part of the strike, “Everybody is in a state of shock with the sudden closure notice. We saw the gate locked. We don’t know what to say. We have sent a letter to the management and are waiting for a response. If they had told us directly, it wouldn’t have been so painful.”

“The company operations were proceeding smoothly and there is no question of any loss as has been shown in the balance sheet,” she added.

Pushpa is hopeful. “We are in the hope that everything will be sorted out and we will be able to reach an agreement,” she said.

Another employee Remya said, “There are pregnant women, there are those who have recently undergone deliveries, there are people who have worked for as long as 31 years in this factory and have only three to four years till retirement. They are all part of our agitation. The closure notice has come as a real shock.”

“Our expectation is that we should get back our jobs immediately. We are common people and have nowhere to go. We have children studying here and our husbands are also working here. My child has chicken pox now and this closure notice has only added to my woes,” a distraught Remya added.

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