GNT told ‘act now’ on Indian violence
17 November 2009
Global union federation the ITF has put shipping and port giant Møller-Maersk on notice that it has to get rid of one of its contractors allegedly attacking port drivers in Mumbai, India.
Despite intense negotiations between the ITF and the Danish company to settle the issue since the first attacks took place in 2007, further violent assaults were alleged to have been perpetrated last month.
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."
The ITF, backed by Indian trade unions, is demanding that the company do the only responsible thing and sever all relations with the contractor, SC Thakur.
Thakur operatives are believed to have ordered the bloody beatings two years ago and be behind the latest attacks in October.
On the 23rd three members of the TDWU (Transport and Dock Workers' Union) say they were beaten by Thakur supervisors who forced their way into their homes - one of the assaults was carried out in front of the man's wife and children. 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.
As with previous attacks, reports (with accompanying photos of injuries) have been made to the police, to Thakur and to Maersk subsidiary GTI (Gateway Terminals India).
The ITF has made it clear that it believes there can be no excuse after two years for a multinational of Maersk's size and reach not to have assured its workers, including subcontracted workers, basic rights and protection from violence.
The situation first erupted in April 2007 when four drivers employed by contractor SC Thakur were abducted and severely beaten. When other union members went on strike in support of the hospitalised colleagues they were sacked.
Following dialogue between Maersk and the ITF the workers were reinstated.
But the violence continued in a further incident, when 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 to local government, in which the Thakur family are involved.
A Danish parliamentary delegation also met with the TDWU in March 2009 to discuss the situation.
The ITF additionally commissioned an independent human rights report, which it made available to Maersk during negotiations that it was hoped would resolve the issue.
In January 2009 Maersk recognised that the drivers had the right to join an independent union and that the contractors should allow them union representation. The ITF has remained in dialogue with the company to bring this about, with Dockers Secretary Paddy Crumlin calling meetings to resolve the issue.
Last month's attack proves that immediate action is needed and the ITF is now telling the company that it has no alternative but to sever its links with SC Thakur. Should that not happen the ITF will take further appropriate action. It declined to speculate what form that action would take.
ITF assistant general secretary Stuart Howard said: "This latest bloody attack is doubly shocking given the efforts made since the first thuggish assaults two years ago. Since then we have sought to end this appalling situation with Maersk's cooperation. The company has taken some measures to aid these workers and hinder the reported criminal behaviour of this contractor, but these clearly still fall short of what the workers on the ground want and need."
"The ITF has credible evidence that the contractor abducted and assaulted workers for wanting to join the TDWU. Until they are allowed to do so at all four GTI contractors - as is their right - they feel unprotected. They have decided that the union is their best defence. Maersk has to deliver on that right. The first, unavoidable step they have to take is to show their disgust at what has been done by showing Thakur the door."
He concluded: "This kind of violence is unacceptable. This company is a repeat offender. We will not wait for a fourth incident to happen. The company has to go, and go now."
Pieter Schaffels, Maersk's communications VP at APM Terminals, told Fairplay magazine that APM has "strict" standards on the safety and the security of its employees, including contracted workers.
"We are investigating this incident and, if accurate, we will take immediate action with Thakur and sever ties," he said.
Terminal operator GTI reject the allegations and say the violence was a private matter, which took place outside the terminal and had nothing to do with them.
The local press has reported the contractor accused of the violence, Thakur have associations with the organized crime.
"We have been in dialogue with A.P. Moller - Maersk in two and a half years, and the company has been cooperating, but we are frustrated that it took so long. And now we require that A.P. Moller - Maersk immediately terminate cooperation with SC Thakur, says Stewart Howard, Deputy Secretary General of ITF.
According to the ITF were three employees exposed to violence in their homes, 23 October this year. One was beaten up, while his wife and children looked on. The violence was attributed, says the ITF because the employees have joined in a union, and that they have gone to court because SC Thakur has not lived up to its pension obligations.
A.P. Moller - Maersk Group recognizes that there have been two previous episodes, and is disappointed by the new reports.
"We received reports about the new episode Tuesday morning and is investigating the matter. If the assault actually occurred, we will cancel the contract with SC Thakur immediately, because we can not tolerate, "says Pieter Schaffels, communications director at APM Terminal in the Netherlands, which is the formal owner of a majority stake in the Indian port terminal company, the GTI.
Meanwhile the Dockers section meeting convened in London this week passed the following resolution:
Gateway Terminals India
The Dockers Section Committee and the Dockers Section Meeting, held in London on 16 and 17 November:
Note with great concern the recurring violence perpetrated by individuals believed to be acting on behalf of Thakur Infraprojects against contract drivers working at Gateway Terminals India PVT. Ltd (GTI), in which A.P.M. Terminals is the majority stakeholder.
Endorse the unanimous resolution passed at the meeting of the affiliates to the All India Port and Dock workers Federation held at Mumbai on the 16th of November, strongly condemning the violence.
Regret that a two-year process, triggered in 2007 by a similar case of violence against contract drivers working at GTi, has yet to produce a positive conclusion.
Request that all measures are taken by the principal employer, GTI, to thoroughly investigate the case and to take appropriate action without delay.
Urge APMT to take immediate measures deemed appropriate to avoid a further escalation of violence against workers and to sever its links with Thakur Infraprojects.
Pledge to offer solidarity support to the workers and members of the TDWU in their legitimate battle for union representation and decent wages in an environment free from harassment, intimidation and violence.
London, 17 November 2009
- Human rights report: Chronicle of Violence
- Photo of Navanath Balshiram Borhade holding up the bloodstained shirt he was wearing during the 20 March 2008 attack (for details of the attack see part ii, page 13 of the human rights report). The photo is copyright free. It is available on request from Dawson_sam@itf.org.uk as a 2.5MB original, along with a small selection of photos including the Mumbai port terminal and the ITF fact-finding mission talking to workers.