The ITF today supplied Møller-Maersk with further proof for its assertion that for years one of its subcontractors in India has got away with violent attacks on its workers, and demanded that the Danish multinational finally sever its ties with the company.
The global union federation first told the shipping and ports giant last November that it was time to repudiate the thuggish subcontractor it believes to be behind the repeated assaults. Maersk's response then was that should the accusations be proved then it would do so.
MUA National Secretary, ITF Dockers Chair and executive board member Paddy Crumlin has been directly involved with the ITF and the Mumbai dockers union campaign for an end to the brutality.
"We will not stand by and allow this bloodshed to continue," he said. "It has to stop and the company has to take responsibility."
ITF Assistant General Secretary Stuart Howard commented: "We've heard the excuse that not enough was known about the attacks. This is now untrue. This case has dragged on for three years. Maersk has no choice but to act. Immediately."
"Maersk's continuing relationship with this company has to end. It is totally unacceptable, it is incompatible with Maersk's status as a signatory to the UN Global Compact and it is, frankly, pretty disgusting on human grounds. No matter how powerful and well connected SC Thakur is, Maersk have to be brave, grasp the nettle and tell them their relationship is over."
At the end of last year the ITF, backed by Indian trade unions, demanded that the company sever all relations with SC Thakur, which it believes is behind three bloody assaults culminating in the latest attacks on October 23rd 2009, when three members of the TDWU (Transport and Dock Workers' Union) were beaten by Thakur supervisors. The victims had all made court depositions regarding the company's failure to pay their provident fund (social security/pension) contributions. They were also told to leave the union. The police have consistently failed to take any effective action.
The violence began in April 2007 when four drivers employed by SC Thakur were abducted and severely beaten. When other union members went on strike in support of the hospitalised colleagues they were sacked, apparently as a result of their action. Following dialogue between Maersk and the ITF the workers were reinstated, but the violence continued in a further incident, when allegations came to light that Thakur thugs beat workers with hockey sticks and steel rods on a company bus to persuade them to join a 'yellow' (ie company-run) trade union. An ITF mission to the area compiled evidence of the attacks and intimidation, and handed this over to the company, police, and government, in which the locally powerful Thakur family are involved. A Danish parliamentary delegation also met with the TDWU in March 2009. The ITF additionally commissioned an independent human rights report (Chronicle of Violence, attached with this press release), which it made available to Maersk during negotiations that it was hoped would resolve the issue, and the further report (Alleged Assault of Contract Workers Engaged Through M/S Thakur Infraproject PVT Ltd at GTI on 23.10.2009 ) that has been given to the company today, and which appears in full below:
ALLEGED ASSAULT OF CONTRACT WORKERS ENGAGED THROUGH M/S THAKUR INFRAPROJECT PVT.LTD AT GTI on 23.10.2009
Pursuant to the request made by ITF, we on behalf of ICHRL conducted an enquiry into the assault of two workers, namely Mr. Dhanaji N. Jadhav and Mr. Bhausaheb Kiswe on 23.10.2009 at Jessai Village allegedly by officers of M/s Thakur Infraproject Pvt.Ltd operating at GTI. We also inspected the necessary records of the P.F. Commissioner's office, Police Station and the Labour Commissioner's office.
ICHRL Report dated 20.12.2009 regarding union membership
There are about 110 employees employed through M/s Thakur Infraproject Pvt.Ltd who perform the work of drivers at GTI. In the year 2008 about 102 drivers were employed Majority of the workers had joined Transport and Dock Union (TDWU) as the investigation carried out by ICHRL on 20th December, 2008 shows. The management of both Thakur Infraproject Pvt Ltd and GTI had refused to negotiate with TDWU but had negotiated a settlement with Navi Mumbai General Kamgar Sanghatana (NMGKS) without first verifying the membership of both the Unions. The members of TDWU are regularly being threatened by the management to resign from TDWU. This was the complaint made by the workers when we interviewed them on 2.12.2008. Since the management was disputing the membership of TDWU and was claiming that the said Union had no membership it was decided by Maersk and ITF in London that an inquiry would be conducted into the Union membership in M/s Thakur Infraproject Pvt.Ltd and three other contractors.
On behalf of ICHRL a report dated 20th December, 2008 was submitted and the investigation found that TDWU had majority support amongst workers engaged through the four contractors. It appears that ever since then the management of M/s Thakur Infraproject Pvt.Ltd has been trying to pressurize the workers to resign from TDWU, which the workers have refused to do. This has been brought to our notice in the subsequent interviews conducted by us of some workers after the alleged assault.
Background of Ms THakur Infraproject Pvt.Ld
M/s Thakur Infraproject Pvt.Ltd. is a Pvt. Ltd company promoted by Mr. Ramsheth Thakur who is a former member of Parliament and a prominent figure of Congress Party in Raigad, Maharashtra. His son, Mr. Prashant Thakur was recently elected as an MLA on the ticket of Congress Party. He was formerly the mayor of Panvel Municipal Corporation. Mr Ramseth Thakur has a vast business empire in Raigad, which include civic contracts and Public Works Department (PWD) contracts, Infraproject contracts including Transport Contracts. It is alleged that most of these contracts which involve crores of public money have been awarded without any public auction. According to various newspaper reports and persons residing in the area who were interviewed, Mr. Ramsheth Thakur has a strong political influence in the area and a large share of civic, infraproject and transport contracts are awarded to him . Large scale stone quarrying in and around Navi Mumbai is carried out and several Petitions in this regard are pending before the High Court at Bombay. He is the group Chairman of about 250 contract firms vesting him with enormous financial and political clout. He is a trustee of the Jawaharlal Nehru Port Trust (JNPT) and has been continued as a trustee on the newly constituted Trustee Board of the JNPT. His flagship company M/s Thakur Infraproject Pvt.Ltd is an accredited 1SO company. Not only does he wield economic power through his various companies but has control over the workers working on various projects through his unions which decide the terms and conditions of service. Their main union is Navi Mumbai General Kamgar Sanghatana (NMGKS).
During the investigation, ICHRL also found that provisions of various laws were not being complied with by the four contractors particularly M/s Thakur Infraproject Pvt.Ltd. This conclusion is also based upon the documentary evidence supplied to us by not only GTI but also various authorities under this law. The violations are as under:
i)No proper muster and salary registers furnishing details of names of employees, dates of appointment salary etc were maintained.
ii) No salary slips giving details of gross salary with deductions for P.F, ESIC, etc were provided to workers.
iii) No benefits and facilities as mandated under the contract Labour Act are extended to the workers.
iv) The workers are required to work 12 hours daily without payment of overtime. There are only two shifts of 12 hour each.
v) No PF slips are provided and PF contributions are not being paid.
vi) Many of the provisions under the Contract Labour Act and other labour legislations are being violated;
Interviews with workers
The workers who were allegedly assaulted were interviewed along with their families during the period October, 2009 to January,2010 along with some other workers employed with Thakur Infraproject Pvt. Ltd who did not wish to be identified for fear of reprisal and victimisastion. Their names have therefore not been disclosed. The narration by the workers and the two workers assaulted of the sequence of events leading to the assaults is almost the same. The two workers who were allegedly assaulted and their colleagues have in the interviews explained the motive for the alleged assaults. They are as under:
Complaint of Non-payment of contribution to PF authority.
With regard to the non-payment of Provident Fund contribution to the P.F authorities by S.C.Thakur, a complaint was made to the Employees Provident Fund Organization sub regional office, Vashi by T.D.W.U. Based upon the said complaint a summons was issued to TDWU by notice dated 25.6.2009 to remain present at the PF office along with 10 to 15 workers. Pursuant to the said notice the Secretary of the TDWU Mr.Raman and Mr.Ashok Bote Patil along with 31 workers appeared before the Regional P.F. Commissioner on 15.7.2009. At the hearing 27 workers deposed against the company. At the hearing Mr. Jude A.P.D'Souza Sr. Manager-Human Resources and Mrs Gazale Farroqui Manager -HR on behalf of the GTI were also present. This is evident from the inspection of the records and the roznama (Daily order sheet).We were told by the workers that they had informed the PF Commissioner that earlier 67 employees had registered a complaint on 16.7.2008 and soon thereafter the services of 27 employees had been terminated for demanding their statutory benefits. This is evident from the correspondence shown to us and the minutes of the hearing before the Regional P.F. Commissioner.
At the hearing the Union representative expressed fear that the services of those who appeared before the Commissioner would be similarly terminated. The proceedings under section 7 A of the P.F. Act have been recorded in the Daily order sheet dated 15.7.2009, which has been inspected. We have also gone through the correspondence exchanged between TDWU and the P.F. office, and it was found that by letter dated 19th August, 2009 TDWU reiterated their apprehension that the services of the workers who had deposed before the P.F. Commissioner would be terminated. It was stated that their apprehension was borne out by the fact that 27 workers who had deposed on 15th July,2009 were denied booking and have since been kept idle. The workers we interviewed confirmed the fact that 27 workers had deposed on 15th July, 2009 and that soon thereafter they were prevented from reporting for work. In order to doubly confirm this, we asked the workers if we could confirm this from the workers themselves. We thereafter met the affected workers and further confirmed the above.
Incident of 23rd October,2009.
- Assault of Mr. Bhausaheb Kiswe
After completion of duty on 23.10.2009 Mr. Bhausaheb Kiswe working as a driver at GTI through M/s Thakur Infraproject returned home. As confirmed in a statement by his wife, Mrs. Sushali Bhausaheb Kiswe, Mr. Kiswe was sleeping when, at 2:40pm, Mr. Kailash Koli and Mr. Rajendra Mhatre, supervisors of M/s Thakur Infraproject Pvt.Ltd entered his house since the door was open while another man waited outside. Mr. Kiswe's two children Sakshi about 3 ½ years and Sanhita about 2 years old were playing outside. Mr. Koli and Mr. Mhatre started mercilessly assaulting Mr. Kiswe in front of his wife. During the assault - in which he was beaten about the legs, stomach and head - the two supervisors kept threatening him with dire consequences if he did not resign from TDWU. They also told him that he and his family would have to suffer for daring to lodge a complaint before the Regional Commissioner, P.F . His cries could be heard by his two children who came inside to see what was happening. The kids started crying and asked their mother why the two men were beating their father. Sushali did not know what to do and tried to protect her husband. However, as soon as the two men found that he had become almost unconscious they left. She then gave him some water and dressed his wounds. She told us she had just come from her village in July,2009 and was new to the area. All the men in the neighbouring rooms had gone to work. Her immediate neighbour had gone to his village along with his family and the room was locked. After Mr. Kiswe gained consciousness she insisted that he should not go to outside the house. His shift was at 7.00 p.m. However, he decided to go to Jassai Police Station which is about 15 minutes from his house. He informed us that on his way to the Police Station he called Mr. Dhanaji Jadhav a colleague of his working in the same company as a driver and told him about the incident. Mr. Jadhav joined him on the way and they together went to the Police Station. At the Police Station he informed a police constable about the incident who then went and personally visited his house. Mr. Kiswe finally managed to lodge a complaint at the Jessai Police station. According to Sushali around 1½ hours after the attack a police constable came to her house and asked her whether her husband had been assaulted to which she answered in the affirmative. The constable then gave her his cell number and told her to contact him whenever she or her husband required any help. After registering his complaint, Mr. Kiswe returned home just as the constable was leaving.
- Assault on Mr. Dhanaji N.Jadhav
Mr. Jadhav lives with his wife and 3 children Priyanka 8 years, Suraj 7 years and Pooja 4 years in a small room on the first floor of a chawl with 10 rooms
After lodging the Complaint of his colleague, Mr Jadhav returned home and sat down to eat dinner at about 8.00 p.m. along with his wife and three children. As they were eating he received a phone call and he told his wife that he was going down to meet someone. He went downstairs and saw Mr. Kailash Koli and Mr.Rajendra Mhatre standing near his building. As soon as he approached them they pounced on him and started assaulting him with a belt. In the process his phone fell. While assaulting him they told him to resign from the Union and then started flogging him with a belt. There was no one in the vicinity whose help he could take. When the two supervisors saw that Mr.Jadhav was about to collapse they left him. He had no shirt on his back and he was bleeding. He managed to get up and went towards his house on the first floor. There were no neighbours present nearby. Two of the rooms next to his room were locked and all the men had gone to work. His wife saw that his back and right finger were bleeding. She dressed his wounds. His wife Rekha Dhanajee Jadhav told us that when she saw her husband she was shocked and terrified. She asked him what had happened and he told her that he had been assaulted with a belt, by the two supervisors of his company. While she was dressing his wound her elder daughter came into the room and asked her father what had happened. He told her that he was fine and that he had just had a minor accident. He told his wife that he was going to the Police Station. She therefore accompanied him downstairs when they saw that the two persons were still standing there. As soon as they saw the husband and wife they left the premises. Both of them searched for the phone and found it nearby. Mr. Jadhav told us that he went to the Police Station but the Officer in charge refused to register his complaint. He therefore contacted the office bearer of the union Mr. Bote Patel on phone who then reached the spot after sometime and it was only thereafter that the complaint was registered late at night. We specifically asked both the workers whether they had any personal enmity with the two supervisors and they stated that they had none. They said that the supervisors were against the members of TDWU Union and constantly harassed and threatened them with canceling their passes, whereas the members of NMGKS were particularly favoured by giving them regular bookings.
Response of GTI
Despite the police complaint made by the two workers and despite having mentioned the names of the two supervisors no action has yet been taken. They have not been arrested and they are presently working in the company. No inquiry has yet been conducted by the company or the police. By letter dated 29.10.2009, TDWU informed Mr. Arvind Bhatnagar, CEO of GTI about the entire incident and also provided the names of the two supervisors. However they have not yet been arrested. Instead a reply dated 9th November, 2009 was given by GTI interalia stating
"...... Please note that we have entered into contract with these companies on a principal to principal basis, therefore we would not be in a position to reply to your these letters."
Contrary to this position, the law provides that the Principal is responsible for the acts of its agent/ contractor.
The above report is based upon the interviews of the two workers namely Mr. Bhausaheb Kiswe and Mr. Danaji Namdeo Jadhav their wives, and other workers working with Thakur Infraproject. Relevant documents at the P.F office, Police Station and the Labour Commissioner's office have also been examined.