Interview with A. Soundararajan, CITU general secretary, Tamil Nadu
It is not an isolated case' S. DORAIRAJ .
A. Soundararajan:"Multinationals have to abide by Indian labour laws".
A. SOUNDARARAJAN, general secretary of the Tamil Nadu unit of the Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU), has been leading workers'struggles in many industrial units, including Foxconn India. In this interview, he expresses his views on issues such as implementation of labour laws in special economic zones (SEZs), the State government's approach to labour disputes and the determination of the workers in asserting their rights.
Are the country's labour laws applicable to units in the SEZs?
The Indian labour laws are applicable to industries in any part of the country, including the SEZs. The multinational corporations also have to abide by these Acts and rules.
The Central SEZ Act also makes it clear that normal labour laws are applicable to SEZs, which are enforced by the respective State governments. Though attempts were made to exempt units in SEZs from these laws, the Left parties succeeded in making the first United
Progressive Alliance government incorporate this provision in the Central Act. The tragedy is that though accepted theoretically, it has not been properly enforced.
Where did the State government fail so far as the Foxconn issue is concerned?
Upon receiving the plea from the Foxconn India management on August 24 to arrange for a proper election mode to ascertain the strength of the LPF and CITU unions in the factory, the Labour Department should have immediately seized the opportunity to hold a secret ballot. Unfortunately, it failed to do so. The lack of response from the authorities betrayed the plan to instal the ruling party's union, the LPF.If this trend continues, the State will witness a spate of struggles and agitations to assert trade union and labour rights in the industries, including the multinational corporations in SEZs.
What made the CITU enter the picture when the workers had already chosen the LPF to represent them in Foxconn India?
The workers were disenchanted with the LPF union, particularly in the wake of the untoward incident in Foxconn's Sunguvarchatram plant where several workers were taken ill in July. The workers, including some key office-bearers of the union, left the union and sought our assistance to improve their working conditions and enhance their wages. Only then we came into the picture.
Do you think that the Foxconn issue is an isolated case?
No; it is not an isolated case. There is a definite pattern in the way the government deals with labour disputes.
The successive governments in the last 10 years were very particular to see that no union was formed in the industrial units in SEZs. But the workers, owing to their bitter experiences, began forming unions,even risking their jobs. In this way, unions were started in a number of MNCs. The managements of all these units refused to recognise the unions affiliated to the CITU or to talk to their functionaries.On seeing that workers had started moving to the CITU, the ruling party, with the support of the government, introduced the LPF unions with a view to satisfying the statutory requirement. These unions turned out to be the puppets of managements, betraying the interests of the workers.Foxconn is a typical example of the majority of workers supporting theCITU. Now BYD, China is the new addition.
Can the Foxconn India workers, with women making up around 40 per cent of the workforce, sustain the struggle?
The management thought that the strike would fade away in a short period. Contrary to their expectations, the workers are holding on for over a month. The young women workers showed exemplary courage in the face of police action and intimidation. Actually, the Foxconn workers, through their determination, have sounded a note of caution to the MNCs in the State that they can no longer flout the labour laws. The managements' resistance will collapse like a house of cards in the face of the workers' resolve to assert their right to better wages and service conditions and the right to choose their union.