IFTU, Labour Laws, Protests, Trade Union

AP: Struggle of Aurobindo Pharma Workers – P. Prasad

(New Democracy News)

A struggle is on in Aurobindo Pharma Company of Srikakulam Dist of AP. These employees fought for the right of formation of union last year. They had resorted to 83 days’ strike from 7 -7-2013 to 1-10-2013. Arrests, false cases, kidnappings, suspensions dismissals etc. frequently took place then. However finally they got victory, with support of solidarity movement. Union registration was done. IFTU union is functioning for last one year, in successful manner. Union also strengthened with increase of 450 membership of chemists. With this new strength, our union gave a ‘charter of demands’ for wage revision to the management on 2-04-2014. In this background, ongoing struggle began.

In erstwhile regime of Chandra Babu, i.e. in between 1995 – 2004, many new industries as extensions of old units were established in North Andhra coastal region. Industrialists and corporate companies were encouraged by then Chandra Babu govt with tax concessions etc. One declared reason was to avoid pollution in Jeedimetla, Patancheru, Nacharam, Bala Nagar etc. industrial areas surrounding Hyderabad City. Aurobindo Pharma Unit was also established in Srikakulam District 13 years ago.

Then Chandra Babu Govt established mainly four industrial belts in this coastal region, Pydi Bhimavaram, Chilaka Palem, Pusapati Gega and Thagarapuvalasu. Mainly Pharma units like Aurobindo, Reddy labs, Mylan, Andhra Organic Ltd. are in above area. Fertilizer units, Aqua units, Battery Making units, Chemical units are also there. Aurobindo unit is in Pydibhimavaram Industrial Area.

One rivulet, Kandivalasa gadda, is dividing two Districts- Vijainagaram and Srikakulam (SKL) at Pydibhimavaram. South side of the rivulet is in Vijainagaram dist and North side is in SKL Dist. Industries were established in Pydibhimavaram Village i.e. only on the north side. At Pydibhimavaram, Aurobindo, Reddy labs Andhra Organic Ltd. etc. big Pharma units were established. Nearly 20 thousands workers are working (Total work force in above said four Industrial Centres is about 50 Thousand).

Nearly 50% of Pydibhimavaram work force is belonging to Vijainagaram Dist. & 30% of it belongs to SKL Dist. Remaining 20% are from Vishakhapatnam and Godavari Dists. Historically Vijainagaram dist is educationally advanced due to Gajapathi Rajas rule in British Colonial period. Requirement of workforce for pharma units are skilled, mainly chemists.

Aurobindo Pharma was established in 1970s at Hyderabad, with only 900 workmen, including chemists, but it extended to a total of 11 units. Old and medium size ten units are located in four Dists, i.e. Hyderabad, Ranga Reddy, Medak and Mahabub Nagar. All these units have nearly 10 thousand work force, but the 11th unit which is located in Pydibhimavaram has six thousand work force.

These big corporate units were established in North coastal area at the cost of peasants and fishermen mainly. Thousands of acres of lands of poor peasants were taken by then Chandrababu Govt, by either fraud or forcibly, with very low compensation. By pollution of these industries, fisherfolk community are losing their livelihood. Common people got heavy losses due to these industries, but village elders, contractors, politicians were benefitted more and more by managements. In some other forms common people were also established in other new professions and works which were emerging, mainly in service sector. Local people are following ruling parties, so they could not understand that they are main losers by these industries. Moreover major section of rural people there, having illusions that these industries will give them some type of livelihood in the form of shops, business, petty trades, contracts and also workmen etc., one aristocratic political section (which is creamy layer) has emerged in the rural area of industrial areas, having command on people. They are dictating to common people there. All police stations and Govt Administrative officers (MRO etc.) and labour dept. are in hands of big corporate companies. No independent law implementers are there. This is the ground situation.

Without Nellimarla, there was no IFTU union in Aurobindo. More than 100 chemists of Aurobindo are from Nellimarla workers’ villages. And nearly 500 chemists are from villages of Nellimarla, Vijainagaram and Gurla mandals who know about Nellimarla struggle. (100 belong to Jute workers’ families directly, 500 belong to Nellimarla struggle impacted areas). Thus they came to form union affiliated to IFTU in March 2013. And also considerable number of chemists are from villages of Aruna Jute Mill, East Coast Jute Mill, Bobbili Jute Mill, all of who know IFTU.

Prior to formation of IFTU Union in Aurobindo, CITU & TNTUC affiliated Unions were formed in some units in above said industrial areas. Though those unions belonged to revisionist, reformist politics, they were also crushed by the state due to insistence of corporate. In some units CITU sustained after protracted repressive acts but after that they colluded or adjusted with managements. But when IFTU entered in Aurobindo, all corporate companies of these industrial areas were united in making attempts to foil it.

After 83 days protracted strike in 2013 (July to Sep), an agreement was arrived at between both parties in Aurobindo, with three months transfer of nine union leaders to Hyderabad & RR Dist units. This was part of victimization, but then we were forced to agree in view of broad interest of livelihood of 2000 families. As our unity continued and became more stable, management was forced to honour that clause of Agreement resulting in nine union leaders returning to the original unit, which created more confidence in our members.

Management had agreed to recognize our union in the unavoidable situation then, but planned to destabilize our union. Repeated attempts were made by them in last one year. Soon after we succeeded, management offered promotions and increments to some of our union’s activists to bur them off but failed. Some of our core members were offered promotions as managers, asst. managers also but consciously our comrades refused and stood with union. Some were offered monetary benefits also.

When we conducted General body (GB) meeting on 14-12-2013 to elect new executive body in place of temporary Adhoc Committee, management made attempts to resort to divide and rule tactics. Most of our union leadership belongs to Vijainagaram dist, because of their abilities and initiation in formation and functioning of union and also role in struggle. Management indirectly encouraged SKL employees to take over the main leadership of the union in the GB, but failed. At that juncture, our members belonging to SKL Dist understood management’s conspiracy. This regional chauvinism was defeated by unity of employees. Actually, now some of activists belonging to SKL Dist. have emerged into core leadership of union.

At the end of year 2013 and beginning of year 2014, management changed their tactics towards our union. They frequently held talks with our executive body at plant level on occasion of some local disputes and talked very positively. Management made attempts repeatedly to manage our body in a cordial way. But our body was alert in light of our direction. Finally management stated that the outside leader i.e. K. Sanyasi Rao, President (IFTU state ECM) should not be permitted into talks; they wanted to negotiate with only employees. But our body unanimously rejected this.

Many more tactics and tricks were played by management in this period but failed as a result of consciousness of our members. So management finally came to conclusion to crush our union on occasion of wage agreement.

Though we gave demand notice on 2-4-14, Labour Dept. did not take interest to organize joint meetings upto nearly 2 months. In 1st round of talks management objected to participation of outside leader, i.e. Sanyasi Rao. In 2nd round of talks this continued. In 3rd round of talks, on request of Joint labour commissioner, management on paper objected but practically allowed.

In 4th and 5th and 6th round of talks the Union president participated in talks officially. It was a major victory for our union. Management was forced to recognize our outside leader in negotiation process. After it, management has started new tactics. They objected to discuss wage increase to executives who are members of our union and also objected to agree to them as workmen. Their argument was that executives are not entitled to be members of a trade union.

In this Aurobindo unit there are 1800 chemists, 300 executives, 3700 contract workmen. Chemists and executives are commonly called employees. Here the word executives is not equal to executives of corporate language. They are also workers in broad meaning. In neighbouring pharma units also, CITU, TNTUC etc. formed unions with executives and chemists. We showed some judgments that executives, supervisors etc. are also to be treated as workmen as they have no administrative powers e.g. to sanction leave, but management did not agree. JCL agreed in words, but in practice sided with management in the name of practical solution. We refused to disassociate with executives.

At the time of last 83 days strike, our membership was only 1100 including executives. At the end of strike it come down to around 800, but we could get victory as our work force is mainly of core productive wings. But during this last year, our membership increased to 1600, including 130 executives. We could consolidate our base. Then our struggle was for only right to formation of union but now our struggle is for wage increase. So, we are in advantageous position now, relative to the previous strike.

After we have given strike notice, management and Labour Minister joined and planned to crush our union All of a sudden, when negotiations are going on, the state Additional Labour Commissioner wrote a failure report and referred to Labour Court, Vizag, for adjudication. So strike is prohibited. If we went on strike, they planned to dissolve our union, in the name of illegal strike. We were in defensive position.

Management resorted to vindictive and repressive acts with help of police. For petty reasons they started suspensions and illegal inter-transfers. Frequently police rushed into the factory and terrorized workers in last part of Sep. and Oct. On occasion of Hudhud cyclone, our 300 chemists fulfilled their duties continuously for 3 days (Oct 12, 13, 14) to avoid chemical blasts. Those who could not attend as transport facilities were paralyzed, have to be treated as on duty, as per practice and also law, but management did not agree for it. Our union protested on 25th October. As counter action, management stopped 21 activists from entering for duties on 26th Oct. Naturally, our employees reacted and came out.

Now Management version is that we are on illegal strike for wage revision which is in labour court adjudication. Our argument is that we are not on strike, instead, our employees were thrown out by management. With insistence of Labour Minister, the JCL also issued notice to us to give our reply to management’s letter. He sent the letter of management to us, with his covering letter.

AP Labour Minister K. Acham Naidu, who is the brother of Late Yerram Naidu (Ex TDP Lok Sabha leader) belongs to SKL Dist. and is subservient to corporate. Now he dealt Labour, Revenue, Police departments to save the Aurobindo management. After being thrown on the roads, our employees were not allowed to hold protest programmes in front of the factory. In 83 days strike period, we maintained protest tent there, but this time there is no choice.

Soon after Chandra Babu took oath as CM on 8-06-2014, the big corporate heads of north coastal region (VVS) met at a five star hotel in Vishakhapatnam, and discussed two things. One is to represent to new CM for Tax concessions and the other to crush TU activities and maintain industrial peace. Their delegation met CM in July. These developments show the AP Govt.’s attitude towards working class.

In 8th Oct. talks, the Add. Labour Commissioner openly told our union delegation (in front of management representatives) that Chandra Babu has taken this issue and is dealing directly. He advised us not to have hopes for solution. He said that even Labour Minister cannot interfere in this dispute to settle it, though he belongs to SKL Dist. Labour Minister also told his inner political circles that he is not able to intervene in this dispute.

This year, Aurobindo has achieved more profits and is the 54th richest firm in India and 3rd richest company in newly formed AP State. Only due to services of employees and workers have they got such profits.

Now, management is getting false cases foisted on our activists. Police imposed prohibitory orders in Pydi Bhimawaram Industrial area. Our union held GB meeting in Vijainagaram town on 30-10-2014, and decided to hold a rally and meeting on 4-11-2014. But police refused permission. We bargained continuously. Finally they agreed to a silent rally just an hour before rally time. Nearly 1500 employees with their Aurobindo uniforms gathered; this gathering shocked the management, Labour Minister, police etc. So just prior to beginning of our rally, police in large number rushed to the rally point and stopped it. They argued that we remove our flags and banners as in their definition a silent rally means this. Time passed and Public meeting time began operating. Taking into consideration all factors we agreed. As protest, we wore black badges. But when we started again even without flags and banners, police cancelled their earlier permission also. This is the law of Labour Minister and CM of AP.

Previously we led heroic struggles in Jute Industry and we have lot of experiences. But now we are getting very new bitter experiences. The servility of law to corporate is more blatant. Aurobindo employees are young and highly educated and are staunchly with us. They are learning trade union lessons more speedily and keenly than Jute working class. “Modi-Chandra Babu” rule of law of corporate is suppressing workers. Aurobindo is young working class. This working class is fighting bravely and fearlessly.