Workers of Mumbai Electric Employees Union have been attacked by the Management with the help of Maharashtra Government using MESMA. Our correspondent interviewed their Union leader Shri. Shankar
MEL : Please tell our readers briefly about your union.
Shankarji : Our Union , Mumbai Electric Employees Union is organizing workers working in Reliance Energy Ltd.
MEL: Please tell our readers briefly about Reliance Energy and how many workers it employs.
Shankarji: The erstwhile BSES was taken over by Ambani group and its name changed to Reliance Energy Ltd. in 2003. This company is responsible for electricity supply to many suburbs of Mumbai from Bandra to Bhayandar and Kurla to Vikhroli. There are about 3500 permanent & 4000 contract workers. 90 % of the contract workers are from South India.
MEL: Please tell our readers about your struggle.
Shankarji: Our struggle is mainly for improved wages and for permanency. 1140 cases of workers are being fought in Bandra court for permanency. To keep us disunited, the company uses the tactic of employing us not through one labour contractor but through many labour contractors. There are about 98 labour contractors with each contracting out 20 to 40 workers. Workers get only Rs. 263 per day. Their PF is cut but they do not get any PF slip nor do they get salary slip. They are not provided any ESI facility.
MEL: How were you attacked by using MESMA?
Shankarji: In 2007, about 10-12 union activists went to meet the HR manager and requested that all the workers be given PF and salary slips. Instead of acceding to our demand, the company management lodged false cases against our activists alleging that they obstructed company work, stopped company vehicles etc. The Company management wrote to the police asking them to slap MESMA against our activists. Police arrested those activists. However, due to our fight and since all the allegations were false and hence could not be proven, the activists were released by the police. But the company sacked them without any enquiry. We are fighting against that in the court.
(MEL’s note for readers: At that time MESMA 2005 was on in Maharashtra)
MEL: What about the present struggle?
Shankarji: Our main demand is for an increase in our wages. The Management has agreed to increase the wages from the existing Rs.263 per day to Rs.317 per day. But we are asking for much higher increase on the principle of “equal pay for equal work”. A huge majority of workers have rejected management offer. In response, the company management went to the High court demanding that action should be taken under MESMA against all who are opposing. But since at that time the MESMA 2005 had lapsed, the High court rejected the demand and the Company had to withdraw that case. We are of course still braving all attacks and attempts by the Management to break our unity.
(MEL’s note for readers : MESMA 2005 lapsed in 2010 and hence the High Court dismissed that case. But now again MESMA 2012 has been passed by Maharashtra Vidhan Sabha & Vidhan Parishad and consent has been finally given by President of India on 2nd August’12. Electric supply has been defined as an essential service and hence these workers have the sword of MESMA hanging over their heads once again!)
MEL: Who you think has benefited from the New Economic Policy of Rao-Manmohan and how has it impacted your sector workers?
Shankarji: The New Economic Policy of Rao-Manmohan has only helped the Indian and foreign capitalists to amass more wealth by intensifying our exploitation. Attacks on working people have increased. Especially since the New Economic Policy was launched, more and more work is being taken from contract workers. The contract system has been systematically strengthened. We have been doing the same work in the same place/for the same company for many years but we have not been made permanent. That is why we are fighting in the courts for permanency. But the cases are not even taken up for hearing for many years. Many of us do not get paid even as per the Minimum Wages Act. As contract workers we are deprived of any legal protection which permanent workers have. Owners know that we will fight. Hence they want to bring such changes in labour laws which will make our fight even more difficult. MESMA is one such attack. But we will not cow down. Our fight is for a just cause and that is what gives us strength.
MEL: We wish you all the best in your just struggle. We will always be with you in your struggle with the perspective “ An attack on one is an attack on all!”