According to a TASMAC employee, there is little sympathy for their rights thanks to the perception that they promote alcoholism.

Profit makers for state but no labour rights TASMAC employees seek job securityFile image
news TASMAC Sunday, February 09, 2020 - 18:48

Employees of Tamil Nadu’s state-owned liquor store, the Tamil Nadu State Marketing Corporation Limited or TASMAC, as it is commonly known, have reiterated their demand for job security and minimum wages. Representatives of TASMAC employees association recently wrote to the government, seeking regularisation of jobs even as they stated their agreement to the government’s policy on prohibition. Their demands include fair wages for the long hours of work in addition to guarantee of minimum wages as per the Minimum Wages Act. The state-run liquor is a top revenue-raking machine for the government and employees point out that they deserve better. 

Speaking to TNM, Ravi*, a TASMAC employee from an outlet in Chennai’s Nungambakkam area, says that there is little sympathy for their rights, thanks to the perception that they promote alcoholism. “When we are asking for our labour rights, it is as employees of the government. But to say this, we have to think twice because, unlike other issues, our problems don’t get coverage. From the time we open the shop until we shut it and go home, only we know the pains we undergo. We are not given our due accordingly,” he says. 

According to the 2019- 2020 data from the state’s Finance Department, the state excise duty collection is estimated to be around Rs 7,262.33 crore. According to Thiruthuraipoondi Murugan, one employee from the city who has been working with TASMAC for 16 years, “On average, we earn Rs 10 lakh for the government on a daily basis. But we don't even get one percent of that as wages.”

‘Complete prohibition policy impractical’  

The state-run liquor stores, in every alternating government in Tamil Nadu, have been at odds with the policy of prohibition. While the late Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa promised prohibition in a phased manner during the 2016 Assembly campaign, prohibition activists allege that the implementation has been lacking since TASMAC is the state’s ‘cash cow’. However, employees of TASMAC say that they are all for partial prohibition. 

“Complete prohibition is a fantasy,” says Murugan. 

“Apparently, in Gujarat, where there is prohibition, you can get liquor within six minutes from the time you need it. In Tamil Nadu, on the other hand, where it is run by the government, it takes 16 minutes. Closure of shops, step by step, is something we all welcome but alcohol consumption is also part of many food cultures. There are social drinkers now. Moreover, it is a trade that not only brings revenue but also supports industries. So a complete ban is simply not possible— it will give rise to smuggling and illicit sale of alcohol. At the same time, it can be tightly regulated and need not be a vast business,” he added.  

Long working hours, contractual employment

Among the chief complaints of the employees is the contractual nature of employment given to the workers. “Despite the Tamil Nadu Contract Labour (Regulation and Abolition) Rules, many are employed on a contract basis. There are 25,000 employees across the state, nearly three people per shop. And yet, the salary for a supervisor is only Rs 12,000. We work in difficult conditions, from 10 am to 10 pm, that is more than the prescribed man-hours,” say some employees.

It was only recently that Murugan was made permanent. “After 16 years of employment and adding the criteria of being a degree holder, we are only being given junior posts in the administrative departments. We have not received minimum wages for all these years of work. Earlier, shops were open from 8 am to 11 pm and we were receiving paltry wages.”

Suresh, who works at an outlet in south Chennai, says that the employment conditions are hardly considered by the government. “Because we work in a liquor store, people think we are used to a tough work environment, including unruly customers. When drunk people come and create issues, we are forced to handle it. But the government is running the shop, while I am only an employee here. There is no job security or physical security for us to do this gruelling work,” he stresses. 

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