Gangtok: Vadodara-headquartered Alembic Pharmaceuticals has announced closure of operations at its manufacturing facility located in Samardung in South Sikkim until further 'advice'.
The development comes 36 days after contractual workers took to the streets to protest the sacking of 15 of their colleagues over a brawl that broke out between them and the management of the company on February 1.
The termination of services, the workers said, was a violation of labour laws.
The company is said to have written to the state government and held talks with representatives of the the Sikkim Krantikari Morcha, who were also part of the workers' protests, that it could not fulfill the demands placed by the workers nor reinstate them.
The incident happened on February 1 when a 25-year-old woman contractual worker was sacked for sleeping during work hours. In her defence, the woman had said then, "We regularly check in for work at 9 am. It was merely 15 minutes into the work schedule when one of the employers accused me of sleeping and told me not to come for work from the next day. Such incidents have happened in the past too."
Later, 15 workers, who came in support of the woman, were also sacked following a brawl.
The police allegedly refused to act on the workers' behalf, not even lodging an FIR, but accepted the same from the company.
On March 1, an investigating officer from Namchi District Hospital approached the workers in an attempt to issue a notice for appearing in the district court. The workers refused to accept the notice and so far have carried out all kinds of protests from marching to Gangtok from Singtam town, a distance of 30 km, to knocking on the doors of industries and labour departments and donning funeral clothing and shaving their heads to call it a 'death of democracy and state administration' -- all in an attempt that their livelihood will not be snatched away by the company.
State labour minister DD Bhutia is yet to address on the issue. Industries minister Ugen T Gyatso Bhutia reluctantly could only be reached for an "If such instances continue then all companies will leave Sikkim" comment.
According to official estimates, pharma companies, hydro power plants and other industries contribute to around 36% of the state's revenue. Thirty-eight pharma production units are currently operational in Sikkim.
Bhutia's words, it seems, is inching towards reality. On Wednesday, contractual workers from various other companies functioning in the state such as Ashwariya and Mankind along with NHPC Teesta V power plant and Yuksom Breweries Limited joined the protests at Shram Bhawan in Tadong to raise their respective issues.
Some of the demands were unequivocal -- hike in salaries, better treatment and facilities for workers ranging from house rent allowances to employee's insurance to something as necessary as women's washrooms, all of which the workers accused their respective companies of not having complied with.
On February 13, the labour secretary issued a notice to Alembic Pharma wherein similar demands along with reinstating of the workers and dropping of charges were to be complied by the company by February 18.
On Tuesday, protesting workers marched to the industries department demanding the cancellation of Alembic Pharma's licence. They issued an ultimatum to the state to act on the issue by Wednesday 2 pm. The company had already shut its operations before the deadline to the ultimatum had expired.
Meanwhile, the ruling Sikkim Democratic Front has said that the company shut down following the protest and involvement of opposition parties. The opposition SKM, on the other hand, has maintained that the company suspended its operations at the behest of the state government to break the unity of workers.
"As per the MoU, the companies cannot open or shut down their units without the sanction of the government. Having availed itself of all the benefits as subsidy and profit, the company has shut down its unit without notifying the local authority and the workers.
Many political parties, individuals and non-political organisations have extended their support either with their protest at the closed pharma company or joining the workers at Shram Bhawan. While the protestors have been expecting more companies to join them, they want to keep their next move of protest under wraps.