June 17: Taut nerves in the besieged jute industry in Bengal have begun to snap in the aftermath of the murder at Northbrook Jute.
Two jute mills announced suspension of work today while unrest affected two others.
Auckland Jute mill in North 24-Parganas’ Jagaddal today announced suspension of work, citing mounting losses. The company, which has around 3,000 workers, had been facing unrest since May after a security officer was allegedly beaten up by employees.
The management suspended around 20 workers, prompting the workforce to demand their reinstatement. The suspension of 10 workers was lifted but an intermittent agitation continued. A fall in demand — a problem cited by many jute mills — is also seen as a reason for the decision to suspend work.
“We were forced to declare suspension of work to curb our financial losses. Employees have been disrupting work repeatedly, demanding reinstatement of the suspended workers,” said S.C. Bhutoria, general manager of the mill.
Bhutoria sought intervention of the state government for reopening the mill.
In Howrah, Hanuman Jute suspended work this afternoon following a row over a plan, mooted in April, to increase working hours without a commensurate hike in wages.
Such are the misgivings sweeping the industry that the workers suspected that the company was deliberately stepping up production to cite overflowing stocks and suspend work. Hanuman Jute had suspended work earlier this year but reopened in April. There was another suspension of work back in 2004.
An executive of Hanuman Jute said: “We work in a competitive environment where each mill is fighting for orders. In the present scenario, it has become difficult for mill owners to make payments to workers on time.”
New Central Jute Mill in Budge Budge, South 24-Parganas, witnessed unrest when restive workers blocked the Budge Budge Link Road near the mill from 11am till late evening after the company allegedly went back on their promise to pay them their wages today.
The subdivisional officer of Alipore, Kirtibas Nayak, said the workers were supposed to get their wages on June 10 but the management had deferred it to today.
But when the management failed to pay them today, the 5,000-odd workers took turns to block the road in groups.
The blockade was lifted after the company allegedly assured the workers that they would be paid tomorrow.
“The mill authorities have put up a notice saying that the wages would be disbursed tomorrow,” the SDO said.
Mill sources said some finished products were lying in the godowns and there was a plan to sell off the jute bags to pay the salaries.
Ten employees of Victoria Jute Mill in Chandernagore were suspended after they allegedly vandalised equipment on the premises.
The workers alleged that a colleague on night duty yesterday, Mrityunjoy Das, fell ill but was asked to continue working. Fellow workers later took him to hospital.
The alleged vandalism prompted the management to issue the workers show-cause notices and suspend work in sections of the factory.