For the first time since it was set up in 1949, a textile factory of the Aditya Birla group at Rishra in Hooghly district announced a lockout on Monday. The factory has 5,700 workers -- 4,200 of them permanent. They make linen and linen yarn that sells under the Grasim brand.
The workers of Jayashree Textiles factory, owned by the Aditya Birla group, have been on strike since June 4 demanding higher wages and the reinstatement of nine workers who had been suspended for alleged violence against officers.
Since then, the management says they have incurred losses of Rs 16 crore and is set to lose another Rs 10 crore in export orders. But because of the threat of violence by some workers, the management has been forced to shut down.
West Bengal labour minister Malay Ghatak tried to hammer out a compromise, but without success.
Trouble began May 31 when an officer was assaulted by a group of workers. He was injured in the hand with a knife. Five workers were suspended at once.
But at 6 pm that day, the unions called a strike. The management says that since then there have been attempts to restore normalcy. But the workers have stuck to their stand -- reinstate the five suspended on 4 June and nine others on January 7.
The workers want a hike in wages and are opposed to any productivity-linked wage. There are eight recognised unions at the factory. The most influential is the Indian Federation of Trade Unions or IFTU. Another recently formed union called PATUC has come up, reportedly with links to the BJP and the Naxal elements.
But the management claims there has to be productivity-linked wages in these competitive times. According to Ranjan Banerjee, while the Rishra factory employs 52 hands per 1,000 spindles, other Indian factories make do with 30 hands per spindle and the Chinese work with 22 hands per spindle.
"We want to bring 52 down to 38 hands per spindle," he said.
In the past, Aditya Birla Insulators, in the same campus as Jayashree Textiles, saw a 45-day lockout.