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Nestl� suspends 4 union leaders at Maggi factory in India

Posted to the IUF website 05-May-2009

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Management at Nestle's factory in Pantnagar in north-eastern India suspended 4 union leaders just a day after signing a tripartite agreement that ended a 4-day strike over trade union rights and unfair dismissals. Protest action by Nestl� workers in Pantnagar has resumed, while workers at 4 other Nestl� factories in India continue the protest action begun on 16 April.

Striking workers demand union rights at Nestl� Pantnagar

Workers at Nestle India's newest and largest factory - which manufactures Maggi-branded culinary products - began mass protest actions and sit-down strikes on 27 April, demanding reinstatement of unfairly dismissed workers, permanent jobs for over 400 "trainees" illegally denied job security, and an end to management interference in the registration of their trade union.

The action was launched when management attempted to force four workers to �voluntarily� resign as part of an effort to prevent union organising. Three workers refused and were then dismissed.

After 4 days of continued strike action by 150 permanent workers that was supported by 600 contract workers, the management of the Nestl� Pantnagar factory was finally forced into negotiations through mediation by the Assistant Labour Commissioner. An agreement signed by the three parties stipulated that a fair inquiry into the cases of the 3 dismissed workers would be carried out and that both union and management would honour the inquiry's finding, while having the right to appeal.

The agreement also stated that no action would be taken against the striking workers once they resumed work, and that trade union rights would be respected.

On signing the agreement the protest ended and the factory re-opened for the night shift of 1 May. But the next morning, 4 union leaders, including the union president, were summarily suspended by management. Another 20 suspension letters were prepared but not issued.

In response workers once again started protest actions but were prevented by the police from protesting at the factory. Instead there is a sit-in protest at the Assistant Labour Commissioner�s office.

Workers protesting outside the Assistant Labour Commissioner's office

Nestl�'s attacks on the right to organise

In March, 55 workers formed Nestle Mazdoor Sangh (Nestle Workers Union) and submitted an application for registration with the local authorities.

Nestl� India management intervened, threatening 25 workers and forcing them to sign a false statement claiming that they joined the union under �coercion�. This was submitted to the Assistant Labour Commissioner who then delayed the registration of the union.

This coercion by management is recorded in an affidavit signed by the 55 workers and submitted to the Assistant Labour Commissioner on 25 March: �When the management came to know that we have submitted the papers for registration in Registrar office, the management threaten some of our signatories that they will be transferred to other places in India if they form the union by stating this they took signatures from some workers and gave it to you in order to ensure that our union does not get registration.�

Over 200 workers have now joined the union, while management continues to challenge its registration.

Meanwhile rolling protest actions demanding the right to wage bargaining are continuing at Nestle�s factories in Moga, Samalkha, Ponda and Bicholim.