SANDQVIST Bags and Items AB, Complaint 724

Payment of a living wage Legally binding employment relationship

1) The factory has many Muslim workers who went on a festival leave of 1 week to 10 days in the past week (the Eid festival in India was on 5th & 6th June 2019) and many of these workers joined back factory on 17th June (Monday).
2) Upon joining, they were informed by the management (Mr. Gautam) that there shall be wage deduction of their days of absence. This was not agreed by the workers since it was festival leave and Eid is a very important festival for the Muslim followers.
3) They opposed management and did not endorse wage deduction.
4) Management, as a response, fired all the workers (around 200 who collectively bargained against the wage deduction).
5) The management, before firing them, tore the FWF code of labour practice so contact with FWF could be restricted.

In addition,

6) Most of these workers have been working in the factory for 2-3 years, on an average.
7) They are paid around INR 450 per day of work. There is 'no work no pay' rule followed.
8) Although management promised the workers about bonus and other benefits last year, but none was provided.
9) As on 4PM, 17th June, these workers are stationed outside the factory. Although management tore the CoLP, few of the workers had taken a picture of the CoLP long time back and called FWF for help.
10) They seek mediation from FWF / brand and the demand to be reinstated back in the factory. Since getting another job in the area is not plausible.
11) On asking how will the management ensure production if these many workers are fired, the complainants stated that the trend is common that old workers are fired on some illegal pretext and new gullible workers are hired, who are also, on some pretext, fired after some months/years.

Overview of the complaint investigation

2019-06-20 Investigation

Fair Wear shared the complaint with the brand and the brand shared the complaint with the factory in turn.

On 19 June the brand spoke to the factory management to discuss this case and management's version was that around 120 workers left on their own will hence they are not willing to reinstate these workers. According to the management, the factory accountant was almost beaten up on 15 June, he claimed he has also been threatened, and that workers had threatened the workers in their other factory.

Management claimed that all workers were informed that if they did not clear their dues on 17th June before workers left, they could come back and work again. According to the management workers left was the argument concerning Ali Raja. This is the production worker that they wanted to move to the sample room, but who refused this. When he refused this, management wanted to fire him and the rest of the workers stoop up in support of Ali Raja.

FWF asked for the factory' s leave policy to check the validity of the complaint. Brand has checked for the policy document and they only shared the Standing Order.

2019-06-23 Investigation

Complaints handler spoke to the complainants and they stated that they wanted to be reinstated soon and wanted to emphasise that they have not resigned on their own and it was against their will. They expressed their demands as follows:
1. Most of them are working in the company for 1-3 years, and they can not be fired like this, without following any procedures and without any reasons
2. The company should make an agreement (sign contract with workers) for the years of employment, so that they clearly know for how many years they are hired
3. If not above, the company should make an agreement in writing with the workers that in times when there is no work they will be sent on paid/unpaid leaves. So that workers clearly know about when they will be unemployed and they can plan accordingly
4. There was an oral agreement that company will be 400 for house rent and some amount for transport in first week of every month, and therefore, the company must pay at least this money so that workers are able to pay house rent and bear transport cost.
5. There is no payment in the company for any holidays, weekly offs or any leaves, and therefore the company should not deduct any wages of workers for the days worked.

The management did not accept any of their demands. It was clearly communicated to the workers that the company will not make any agreement with workers in above contexts. They must accept the terms and conditions of the management OR take the 1-2 days wages as above and leave the job. Most of them received these 1-2 day wages for the days worked and left for back home as they do not have money for survival even for a week. But none of them signed any resignation, and actually there was no meaning of it for management as there was no kind of formal employment relationship with them.

Now the workers are only relying on FWF help. They do not know any trade unions and they do not have any idea where is labour department and how to approach them for help. Moreover, They do not have any proof of employment. The only proof of employment is: a) a temporary ID card, without name of company and other details, that was given to them just before FWF audit; b) record of 1-2 transfer of their wages in their bank account during demonetisation.

2019-07-02 Conclusion of the investigation

Since the versions of workers are in direct conflict with that of management this complaint cannot be concluded at this point. Since workers have signed the documents and taken their dues, the factory management cannot be legally held responsible for terminating the employees without notice. Brand and factory management have agreed to have an audit in the two units of this factory in August. The offsite workers interview will also inquire about this incident which may reveal the truth to some extent.

2019-07-24 Investigation

The audit of this factory has been postponed to November first week and the offsite interviews will take place in September 2019.

2019-12-28 Remediation

The verification audit was conducted on 27 and 28 November 2019 and it was found out that issues highlighted in the compliant were found to be admissible. Workers interview and document verification revealed that there are more number of daily wage workers and there is 'no work no pay' rule followed. All unskilled workers are not paid the legal minimum wages and contract workers are not paid Bonus and National holiday payment and even the workers on roll are not paid the same on the pretext of not coming to work on the day before or after the national holiday. Except for permanent workers, rest are not provided with appointment letters and none of the workers are provided with ID cards.

Factory has agreed to work on these issues within 6 months. Brand has agreed to have a partial audit [Except for occupational health and Safety] in the mid of 2020 to check the improvements.