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Jute mill closes over Covid protocol

Complying with the social distancing norms was difficult at jute mills: Trade union leader
Cheviot jute mill

Arkamoy Datta Majumdar   |   Calcutta   |   Published 27.05.20, 09:34 PM

Management announced suspension of work at a prominent jute mill in Calcutta on Wednesday saying a section of employees was not maintaining social distancing norms, one of the mandatory conditions for a factory to operate during the Covid-19-induced lockdown.

The suspension notice was issued by DGM personnel of Cheviot Company Ltd, popularly known as Cheviot jute mill, at Budge Budge. The notice said employees of the ‘C’ shift — that operates between 10pm and 6am — “did not maintain the social distancing…during their tiffin time”.

Since it violated administrative guidelines, the notice said, the mill will remain suspended from May 27.

The notice sparked protests with workers gathering in front of the mill demanding immediate commencement of operations. Police were deployed to control the situation.

The mill had reopened just 24 days ago.

The labourers have alleged that they were being forced to work for seven hours at a stretch without break. “It is practically impossible for a person to work for seven hours. All we have asked for is a break of half-an-hour in between, which they are unwilling to sanction,” said trade union leader Bappa Naskar.

Most of the 59 jute mills in Bengal are now operating with 50 per cent manpower.

Naskar said complying with the social distancing norms was difficult at jute mills.

Considering the large workforce at the mills — Cheviot employs over 5,000 people — reduced workforce on alternative days would mean less number of working days for each employee. “Most of us are employed on ‘no work no pay’ basis. If we are forced to work less, we will naturally be paid less,” he said.

Previously, there were three shifts of eight hours each at a jute mill. Workers were given a break of 30 minutes to an hour in between.

After lockdown norms were relaxed, jute mills were asked to operate in staggered shifts.

The Indian Jute Mills Association had decided on work shifts of seven hours.

In between two shifts, an hour would be spent on sanitising the mills and the premises. Workers will be allowed to take staggered lunch and tiffin breaks in between.

“If these standard operating procedures are followed, any mill can operate by complying with social distancing norms. But some mills like Cheviot are either asking labourers to work for eight hours or refusing them a break. If you don’t look after your labourers, such situations will arise,” said a source at the IJMA, who didn’t want to be identified.

Utkarsh Kanoria, the president of Cheviot Company Ltd, said he would not comment as it was an internal matter between the workforce and the management.

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