On December 7, 43 branches of Muthoot Finance were shut down and 166 staff members were terminated.

Muthoot staff start indefinite protest in Kerala again this time over sudden layoffsPicture from the 52 day strike by employees in October 2019
news Protest Tuesday, January 07, 2020 - 18:23

“On December 7, 2019, at 5 pm, I received an email from the Muthoot Finance management, stating that Kathrikadavu branch in Ernakulam is going to close down and that the employees working here need not come to work the following day. The email also stated that our dues and benefits have been transferred to our accounts,” said Nisha K Jayan, who was laid-off from the post of Manager. She joined the Katharikadavu branch only a year ago. 

Incidentally, the Kathrikadavu branch was only one of the 43 branches of Muthoot Finance in Kerala to be shut down. A total of 166 employees at these branches, too, were laid-off allegedly without any prior notice on the termination of their employment.

A month since the sudden termination, over 1,000 employees of Muthoot Finance, who are members of the employees’ trade union, launched an indefinite strike on Monday, says Nisha, who is also the treasurer of Non-Banking and Private Finance Employees Association. Muthoot Finance is also part of the association. 

The protest witnessed an instance of violence on Tuesday when the Managing Director of Muthoot Finance, George Alexander’s vehicle was attacked with stones, and in the process, he sustained injuries to his head. 

Why the protest 

According to some of the protesting staff, the termination of the 166 staff members was a vindictive act by the Muthoot Management, in retaliation to the 52-day protest by the employees in October 2019, demanding a hike in their salaries. 

“The management does not want a trade union to function in the company. This is very clear,” said Nisha, adding, “I have worked in this company for 17 years. In three years, I have been transferred four times by the management, ever since I joined the employees union and participated in the 52-day strike last year.” 

In October 2019, a 52-day protest by employees of Muthoot Finance ended with an amicable, High Court-mediated settlement between the protestors and the top management. The employees had been agitating for revised salaries and other benefits, following which, the top brass of the company threatened to shut down the affected branches. The management claimed that the protests were backed by the CITU were launched by certain vested interests. 

The 52-day strike ended after the company management agreed to most of the demands raised by the protesting employees. A temporary salary hike of Rs 500 was granted and the management agreed to revoke the termination of seven employees and cancel the suspension of 41 others. The blocked Employees Stock Ownership Plan (ESOP) benefits were also agreed to be disbursed among the staff. 

"Most of the employees who have been terminated now had actively participated in the 52-day strike. This is a deliberate attempt to dissolve the union by the management and we will continue the protests," Gireesh Kumar, another protesting employee of Muthoot, told TNM.

Nisha also alleges that the management has targeted and terminated the jobs of all the people who occupy key posts in the employees union. “Many of the branches, which have been shut, were making profits and these employees, who have been working there for 20 plus years, were also good performers. They have plucked us out and removed the leaders of the union,” Nisha said. 

Apart from Nisha, those who lost their jobs in the latest layoffs include office bearers of Muthoot Finance employees unit (a part of the bigger Non-Banking and Private Finance Employees Association or NPFEA), vice presidents of Ernakulam regional head, unit treasurers etc. Branches from Thiruvananthapuram to Kozhikode have been shut down by the management.  

“This sort of clamping down on trade unions sets a dangerous precedent in Kerala, where such unions are active. A new culture of intolerance is being brought in by the management," added Gireesh. 

“We have received our two-month salary along with our gratuity on the day we were terminated. Our problem is that there was no prior notice and information to the employees that they have lost their jobs. We want our jobs back, and that is our main demand. Most of us who have been laid off have been consistently performing well in the firm,” Nisha said. 

Speaking about the termination of 166 jobs in the company, Muthoot Finance head of corporate communications, Babu John, told TNM that the management had posted a notice in local papers regarding the shutting down of 43 branches. 

“We had spoken to customers and stakeholders regarding the closure of 43 of our establishments. We had even put out an advertisement regarding the same in the papers. How is it that these employees are accusing us of not informing about their termination in advance? All of them have also been paid their dues of over Rs 50,000 each,” he said.

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