Workers at Coca-Cola’s plants in Dasna and Varanasi in Uttar Pradesh are demanding job guarantees from the beverage maker and security against any unforeseen job loss, weeks after the Atlanta-based company transferred ownership of some bottling plants to local franchise partners.
Workers at the Dasna plant, which has been non-operational since 4 December, said they were not informed in advance about the change in the ownership and have appealed to Coca-Cola to ensure that fair work practices are implemented and jobs kept intact whenever a new owner takes charge.
Even the heads of the workers unions were not informed about the change in ownership and the union heads were also not informed, said a member of the workers’ union who did not want to be named.
The workers at what is one of north India’s largest plants for Coca-Cola are also exploring other options such as seeking jobs within the company-owned bottling system or be compensated if they choose not to work under a new owner.
“We are unsecured today. We have no confidence regarding what the new company does with us tomorrow," said Kamlesh Sharma, a 40-year-old employee at the Dasna factory, who joined the beverage company in 2004.
“We didn’t join HCCB (Hindustan Coca-Cola Beverages Pvt. Ltd) thinking we would join a local bottler. We joined this company because they have certain systems in place, they have ethics. Today, we have just been removed. Our demand is that the company we were working for should sit with us and do our settlements," Sharma said. His words were echoed by his colleagues protesting inside the plant complex on Tuesday.
The workers said they first want a resolution with HCCB, the company-owned bottler for most of India, before starting a conversation with their new bottler as they want certain guarantees from Coca-Cola.
“We have nothing to do with the new owner right now. We want to first settle things with HCCB," said Mohamad Suleiman, who joined the bottler in 1999. “We are now quite old. We don’t know if the next owner will keep us or not. They have not given us any guarantee and we are scared," he said.
“We only want a few things. Whatever service is remaining, they either pay us basis that or give us a job within HCCB just like we are doing now. Or we want Coca-Cola India to become our guarantor that if we face any problems under the new bottler they will protect us," said a member of one of the unions who did not wish to be identified.
Earlier this month, HCCB, the bottling unit of Coca-Cola, said it would divest operations in north India to its existing bottlers to optimize resources and widen its distribution network as it adds more products to its portfolio. Coca-Cola works with 14 bottlers in India, including HCCB.
The Dasna plant in the industrial heartland of Ghaziabad is one of the largest in India with daily supply in the peak summer season crossing 100,000 cases. Brands such as Thums-Up, Sprite, Coca-Cola, and Minute Maid are some of the beverages bottled at the unit set up in 1999 after Coca-Cola bought carbonated drink brands such as Limca and Thums-Up from Parle to grow its domestic footprint.
A Coca-Cola India spokesperson said: “The workers remain valued members of the Coca-Cola family and the local bottlers have committed to ensuring their pay and benefits remain unchanged."
HCCB informed workers at Dasna in an open house on 4 December that it is in the process of transferring the plant to a local partner—Moon Beverages. Coca-Cola said it is undertaking an internal realignment of its bottling operations in north India that will see HCCB transfer its bottling operations in four territories in the region to existing bottlers, Kandhari Beverages, Moon Beverages and the Ladhani Group (SLMG Beverages).