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Tuesday, July 17, 2001

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Hind Coca-Cola unit workers launch stir

Our Bureau

CHENNAI, July 16

Over 150 employees of the Hindustan Coca Cola marketing unit at Arumbakkam here have launched an agitation demanding job assurance and management recognition of their union.

Mr G. Muthu, General Secretary of the Madras-Chingleput General Workers' Union, leading the workers at the unit, told Business Line that the company plans to continue with bottling and marketing operations from its new facility located at Nemam, near Che nnai. It has over the last one year terminated the services of its workers, stopped the bottling operations at the Arumbakkam facility and was running it as a distribution centre.

However, the Arumbakkam facility caters to the markets in North Arcot and South Arcot regions in the State.

Recently, the operations were given out on contract to a clearing and forwarding agent and this resulted in surplus staff. The workers who had put in 5-20 years of service were facing a loss of livelihood, he said.

The staff have attempted to form a union to enhance their bargaining power. However, Mr Muthu alleged that after initially agreeing to hold talks with the union, the management refused to recognise the union.

Some of the 200 contract workers at the Arumbakkam facility have joined the agitation over alleged irregularities in provident fund payments. According to the workers, the contractor had not contributed his share towards the workers' provident fund accou nts.

Mr S. Ramasubramanian, Unit Secretary of the union demanding management recognition, said that the workers took out a procession and submitted a petition to the Government demanding it's intervention. Repeated efforts for conciliation have not resulted i n a compromise and the workers have declared a stay-in strike, he said.

He said that at the time of the takeover of the Arumbakkam facility in 1999 and 2000 from Sakthi Soft Drinks and Chennai Bottling Company, the staff were promised job protection. However, the new management had suspended payment of various allowances und er the regular wages and declared a consolidated pay. It had terminated the services of its workers through a voluntary retirement scheme, he said.

Meanwhile, company officials said, Coca Cola operations in Chennai had ``minorly affected'' due to disturbances in the staff ranks due to rumours of job cuts which the company has ``explicitly clarified as baseless''.

Majority of the company associates at Chennai remain unaffected and normal operations continue in sales and business. The management is in discussions with the workers to resolve the issue, they said.

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