Workers of LG Electronics India Pvt. Ltd returned to work after a ten-day protest against management’s unilateral transfer of 12 workers, including union office bearers, to different parts of India. IndustriALL Global Union affiliate, SMEFI, extended its support to the LG workers’ struggle.
On the evening of 20 July, LG India workers reached an agreement with the management of the company in which, according to reports, it was agreed that the workers will now be transferred to nearby locations rather than far off places as previously instructed. No vindictive action will be taken against workers engaged in the protest and all workers will return to work.
LG Electronics India Pvt. Ltd employs some 2,350 workers with approximately 850 permanent workers and 1,500 contract workers. LG workers first took the initiative to form a union in January 2016, and applied for the registration of the LG Electronics Employees Union with the registrar of trade unions.
On 9 July, 11 workers, including office bearers of the proposed union were denied entry to the factory, and management took their ID cards away. The workers were then informed that they were being transferred to different locations in distant parts of India including, Jammu Kashmir, Jharkhand and Bihar and asked to report to work in those places. A twelfth person received the transfer order a couple of days later.
Workers were surprised with this move, and were in no position to move immediately to new locations along with their family members and children. In solidarity, all permanent workers, including about 60 women, staged a sit-in protest on 11 July demanding withdrawal of the unilateral transfers, union recognition, a statutory eight-hour work, increased wages and regularization of contract workers. Some 250 permanent workers demonstrated outside the gates of the company, while 650 permanent workers remained inside the factory on protest.
On 19 July, police detained three workers on charges of attempting to stop contract workers entering the factory. According to workers, police have not made a formal arrest, and in order to pressurize the protesting workers, police kept workers at the Surajpur police station, refusing to release them. Owing to the arrests and the fear of being attacked by hired goons, workers reached an agreement with management on 20 July and withdrew their protest. While their key demands have not been met, the protest showcased the unity of all permanent workers at the company.
Most permanent workers have been working at the LG factory for six to ten years. However, they receive a low salary of around Rs 18,000 (US$268) a month for an eight hour day with overtime of Rs 24,000 (357 USD) per month. Contract workers are paid even less. In reality, every worker does overtime for around four hours, almost daily, making their usual working time 12 hours a day. In order to improve working conditions, the workers established a union and sent a charter of demands to management.
Instead of engaging with workers, LG management deployed unfair labour practices against union members and began union-busting. The management promoted active union members to the staff category. Subsequently, the registrar of unions denied statutory union registration citing promotion of office bearers and stated that promoted workers can no longer be union members, hence the union cannot be registered.
Workers at LG will now pursue the legal process for union registration and take forward their demands.
“This is a typical union busting case in India. The LG management should know that these types of cheap tricks will damage the company image as they declare to protect employees' basic labor/human rights and build a future-oriented "Win-Win Labor-Management Relations" in their CSR policy. Together with SMEFI, we stand with the LG workers’ struggle in India and will continue to support them.” said Kan Matsusaki, IndustriALL sectoral director for ICT, Electrical and Electronics.