The Veli unit of English India Clays Ltd., which had a lockout in August last year, is yet to reopen
When the workers of English Indian Clays Ltd (EICL) in Veli walked out of the company on August 9 last year, they did not have a clue about the temporary lockout notice that would welcome them the next day.
But the word ‘temporarily’ in that notice had given them hope.
Now, one year later, the meaning of that word has been redefined as there are no signs of the Veli unit reopening yet, even as the Thonnackal unit has started functioning.
Over this period, several meetings have happened between the company management, employees’ unions, labour commission officials and Ministers.
Yet, things have remained at a stalemate, even as the around 1,500 employees, including allied workers, are pushed into distress.
Early in January, Prafullakumar, one of the employees who have been active in the protests here, was found hanging in the company premises, pointing at the levels of desperation. Quite a few have been forced to take up other odd jobs, while the majority who haven’t have unpaid house loans, insurance policies, rents and fees.
The Thapar Group of Companies took over ownership of the company in the early 1990s.
Till then it was a joint venture between a local entrepreneur with UK-based English China Clays Ltd.
The clay deposits in the region with high kaolinite content made the processed clay from here a sought-after material for a variety of companies, including paint, paper, ink and even eye-liner manufacturing companies.
The management has pointed at the lack of demand from their clients for not reopening the Veli plant, while the unions question this claim.
“The management makes such claims even as operations continue in the Thonnackal plant. They have been trying to forcibly make the remaining staff at Veli to resign. Some of them put in their papers, due to various methods used by the management. Six were sent to their plant in Gujarat, out of which two resigned, due to the 12 hours working time there.
The company has been running in high profits even at the time of closure. Nothing goes waste here, as even the clay remaining after processing, which is supposed to be used for filling up the mined trenches, are being sold outside,” says K. Udayakumar, District Clay Workers’ Union (CITU).
A High Court order in 2018, prohibited the company from clay mining at Melthonnackal and Veyiloor villages, creating a shortage of raw materials.
But it later managed to restart operations using alternate mining locations in Thonnackal.
“Though Ministers have participated in meetings, the company has not honoured any of the promises. They had promised ₹25,000 interim payment for employees, but only half of this has been paid by them. This too is being given like a loan, which will be deducted from us on retirement.
The government should take over the company and run it like the Kerala Ceramics Limited in Kundara,” says Radhakrishnan, INTUC leader and member of the joint protest committee.
A management official told The Hindu that there are no plans currently for re-opening the unit.