The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Lever lifts Assam factory lockout

Dibrugarh, Sept. 2: Corporate behemoth Hindustan Unilever Ltd has bought peace with restive workers of its personal products factory in Assam, ending a 50-day lockout that even drove a union leader to suicide.

The gate to the factory in Doomdooma will reopen exactly at 11am tomorrow, Lever announced at the end of a marathon meeting between company officials and representatives of the newly floated Hindustan Unilever (Personal Products Factory) Sramik Sangha.

It took 14 hours of hardboiled negotiations at Tinsukia Circuit House since last evening for the deal to be struck.

Lever agreed to pay Rs 200 a month to each worker as settlement implementation allowance with effect from April, in return for which the union promised to maintain “discipline”.

The formation of the union, supported by Intuc, was the first step towards reconciliation. Lever had refused to sit for discussions with the Citu-backed Hindustan Lever Workers’ Union.

The new union has 370 members, more than half of the 692-strong factory workforce.

Sources said the management would initiate follow-up action in accordance with the law against seven workers who were placed under suspension during the strike. The eighth, Ratul Bora, committed suicide last month. His family and colleagues said Bora had sunk into depression on being blamed for the lockout.

Trouble broke out in the factory when Lever refused to pay settlement implementation allowance by citing illegal strikes on 26 occasions over the past year. One of the conditions mentioned in the bilateral settlement between the company and the Citu-backed union was that payments would be subject to “healthy industrial relations” between April 1, 2004, and March 31, 2008.

The immediate provocation for the lockout was workers keeping 18 executives cooped up in their office for 16 hours on July 6.

Tinsukia deputy commissioner K.K.Dwivedi and assistant labour commissioner M.N.Konwar were observers at the meeting that provided the breakthrough.

The general manager of Lever’s HR department, M. Mukherjee, led the company’s eight-member negotiating team. The union was represented by its president, Ananta Baruah, and general secretary Bhaskar Sonowal.

Intuc deputed two of its general secretaries, Girish Chandra Borpatra Gohain (plantation) and Hiranya Bora (non-plantation), to help the union clinch the deal.

Gohain told The Telegraph over phone from Doomdooma that the company agreed to release the annual bonus for workers within a couple of days.

“They have been suffering for almost two months now and need some relief. We urged the company to release bonus early, to which they agreed.”

Labour minister Prithibi Majhi is likely to attend the reopening ceremony.

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