Workers' anger strikes Hindustan Unilever

Written by fe Bureau | Mumbai | Updated: Nov 1 2014, 06:40am hrs
Around 450 workers from Hindustan Unilevers (HUL) factory in Silvassa staged a demonstration with their families outside the companys headquarters in Mumbai to voice grievances ranging from the managements alleged cold shoulder towards unions, inadequate wages, and alleged wrongful termination of some workers.

These employees arrived early in the morning and began agitating outside the main gate of the companys head office in Mumbais Andheri (east) area. Production at HULs Dapada Unit II and Amli factories in Silvassa were affected due to the protest on Friday.

The workers claim that the company, Indias largest FMCG (fast moving consumer goods) manufacturer, doesnt believe in collective bargaining and refuses to engage with unions that represent the interest of most of its workforce across manufacturing sites all over India.

Instead, they identify 8-10 employees and facilitate the formation of minority unions with which they sign agreements, which are then forced on the rest of the workers, says Arvind Nair, vice-president of the Hindustan Lever Employees Federation, the umbrella body comprising HUL employees unions at 18 manufacturing locations with a total of 4,000 members. HUL has 30 manufacturing sites across India.

Hindustan Unilever has always respected employees rights to join or not to join a legally recognised trade union, or any other body representing their collective interests. We have always operated within the framework of local law, a statement issued by HUL on Friday said. At our factories, we are following the due process for discussions with representative unions. Where we have not arrived at a mutually acceptable settlements, there are few issues pending before the appropriate authorities. We will continue to engage with our employees so that we can resolve the issues.

Nair alleged that wages paid by HUL to its workers is lower in comparison to what its competitors pay to their employees in India. While other FMCG companies, like Colgate and Nestle, pay around R30,000 per month to a worker with 20 years of experience, HUL pays around R14,000, Nair said.

Workers are also unhappy about the fact that around half of the salary paid to the relatively newer employees is by way of performance incentives and, therefore, without any guarantee of being paid.

At HULs third-party contract manufacturers like Prime Healthcare, which makes HULs personal care products at its facility in Daman, labourers are made to work for 12 hours a day at wages that are less than that which is the minimum stipulated, the Hindustan Lever Employees Federation said.

The employees unions also demand that the company takes back around 30 workers, whose employments, they say, has been wrongfully terminated by the company over the last five years.

The Hindustan Lever Employees Federation said in a statement that around 33 employees of HUL, who used to work in its erstwhile factory in Kodaikanal, which manufactured thermometers, had died due to ailments related to the use of mercury and around 18 children were affected by congenital disorders. Till date the company has not compensated the affected workers and their families who were badly affected due to...negligence on the part of the company, the statement said.

Nair said that the workers representatives met Anand Tripathi, a human resources manager at HUL, on Friday, who promised to look into their demands. The unions have given the company five days to respond to their demands, failing which they will continue their agitation, including protesting at the venue of the Lakme India Fashion Week. They do not intend to halt production at HULs factories yet.