While the 6 women allege that their unit was shut down as a vendetta against them, other employees claim their protest lacks genuine grounds.

Protest of 6 Kalyan Sarees ex-employees hits 14th day but other staffers slam them
news Protest Tuesday, May 02, 2017 - 19:33

For fourteen days now, six women have been on an indefinite strike against their former employer, textile giant Kalyan Sarees.

Sitting in a small shed erected outside the Kalyan Sarees' showroom at Ashwini junction in Thrissur, the six women –  Alphonsa Johnson, Maya Devi, Preethimol, Beena Sojan, Rajini Dasan and Devi Ravi – are protesting the closure of the 'depot' unit of the company, which has left them jobless. 

Their retrenchment following the closure of the unit violates the terms of their employment contract, they argue. According to their contracts, the company was bound to give them jobs in other showrooms when their unit was shut down.

Significantly, these six women have led two protests against the Kalyan Sarees management before. Two years ago, they had protested for better wages and working conditions. They had then alleged that the management had denied them bathroom facilities and even prevented them from sitting during work hours.

A year ago, they had launched another protest against the company’s decision to transfer them to showrooms in other districts. Now, they allege, they have been retrenched after an “exclusive” department created by the management only for the six of them has been shut down. Alphonsa alleges that, as part of the harassment they received from the management for launching a protest against it, they were "isolated" from the rest of the employees by being transferred to the depot unit. 

However, staff members at the Ashwini Junction showroom told a different story to The News Minute. They maintain that the latest protest is a farce, and even the two earlier protests lacked genuine grounds. 

35-year-old Saritha, who has been employed as a saleswoman at the showroom since it opened five years ago, says that Alphonsa and the five others are alone in their battle. 

"None of the other employees have ever supported their protests. Precisely because it is not genuine at all. The allegations they are raising are completely baseless and if they were to be true, why wouldn't we join them in their protest?" Saritha asks. 

Saritha says that she is satisfied with the work environment, and adds that unlike other stores, Kalyan Sarees employs women irrespective of their age.

"It is really difficult to get employed as sales girls nowadays. Look at any newspaper, you will find advertisements calling for sales girls below the age of 35. Where do women like me work then? Here, we have employees who are as old as 55 years, and we are all satisfied with the incentives we receive here," Saritha added. 

45-year-old Sherly, another saleswoman, says that she earns a basic salary of Rs 10,000 and an additional Rs 4000 or more as incentives. She accuses the protesting employees of acting from vested interest.

"When they first protested against the management, we (other employees) were determined that we will not support them. They created a workers' union and tried to woo some of us into joining them, but we all resisted," Sherly says. 

However, Alphonsa is quick to refute these allegations. 

"Whatever facilities the other employees are now enjoying are all the result of our struggle. We protested so that every one of us could get our rights. The employees are now scared that the management will sack them if they are seen to be publicly supporting us," Alphonsa says. 

A few days after they began their agitation on April 18, the employees of Kalyan Sarees posted a group photo on Facebook to show their unity. However, Maya says that this was a photo-op, and accuses the management of manipulating the employees. 

"A few of them even called me up after work to tell me that they support our struggle, but cannot openly do so as they fear for their jobs," Maya says. 

The six protesters have approached the High Court and Labour Commissioner’s office, with support from the AITUC (All India Trade Union Congress). 

The Kalyan Sarees management, meanwhile, has claimed that the closure of the depot unit was a legitimate action in the face of a shortage of funds. Speaking to The News Minute earlier, TS Ramachandran, Managing Partner, Kalyan Sarees, had said that a fund crunch had forced them to shut down the depot unit and denied the allegations of a vendetta against the protesting women. 

 

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