Chennai: If the Tamil Nadu government has its way, export firms in the state may soon be able to function during strikes called by political parties, trade unions, or other organizations.
The small print of the industrial policy announced by chief minister M. Karunanidhi on 5 November lists a proposal to classify all export-oriented units in the state as public utilities, which means they will continue to function through most strikes, or bandhs, as they are referred to in the country. If the state government, led by the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK), goes ahead with its plans, companies located within existing and new special economic zones and export-oriented units will be defined as public utilities under the Industrial Disputes Act of 1947.
“It has become a fashion for all big investors to demand that the state government issue a notification declaring their facility a public utility,” said a top official in the state government, who did not wish to be identified. “Now, with this, everyone will get the public utility status.”
The Act, which defines services and utilities such as railway, postal, telegraph, telephone, power and water as public utilities, also allows the state government to declare an industry a ‘public utility’ through a notification. It states workers at public utilities should not strike work without giving six weeks’ notice to the employer. It also says workers cannot strike work when talks between them and the company management are on.
“Extending public utility (status) to exporting units is not only trimming of (the) trees, but,” not allowing the trees to come up, said A.K. Padmanabhan, national secretary of the Centre of Indian Trade Unions (Citu), a trade union affiliated to the Communist Party of India (Marxist). He said none of the new industries that have come up in the recent past allows employees to form a union. “We want industries to come up..., but we also want the state government to change its attitude towards trade unions and organized labour,” Padmanabhan added.
The government’s move comes within a month of the Supreme Court issuing notices to the chief minister, chief secretary and three others based on a contempt petition filed by the opposition, the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK). The AIADMK alleged the state government violated the apex court’s order against a 1 October bandh called by the DMK in support of the Sethusamudram shipping channel project.