Is Bombay Dyeing Dying?

The story of Bombay Dyeing’s Ranjangaon factory is not unique, and it is not complete, yet it is important. It is important because it represents a trend that is all too common – something like a Bollywood ‘formula’ movie plot.
The difference is that in a Bollywood ‘formula’ movie, all parties, like financiers, director, actors go smiling to the bank and obviously to home, in Bombay Dyeing type ‘industrial and real estate formula’ stories only the owners and shareholders go smiling and singing to the bank and home. Others actors in the story can only curse their fate.
Bombay Dyeing reportedly purchased 135 acres of land at Ranjangaon to set up [some say to shift Mumbai factory] a new factory. Some workers from Mumbai also moved to this new factory which has four departments: Bleaching, Dyeing, Printing and Finishing. The factory is on an area of 35 acres, and the rest is reportedly unutilised.
After setting up the factory the production started in 2008. Obviously the first step was to recruit workers. But the workers were all employed through contractors – so all were contract employees. Does that sound familiar? Yes, that strategy is very common now.
But nobody was made permanent! So there was an agitation. And some became permanent. This in their lingo is the ‘first batch.’ The workers were working there for over two years in the hope that they will be absorbed in permanent service.
Then another agitation followed after a long wait of two years be other workers. They were also contract workers working in manufacturing for a long time. They sought intervention of local MP Mr Adhalrao Patil. He belongs to Shiv Sena. It must have been difficult not to compromise. So in 2011 a group of 35 workers were absorbed in permanent service.
And the identical story with different players followed in 2012.
But there was a twist in the tale!
All were recruited as Trainees for a period of one year and then put on probation for six months. So essentially you keep them on tenterhooks, right? Insecurity keeps the workers in check! The well accepted assumption is that workers must be made to feel insecure if you wish to control them. A corollary: Permanency makes a worker do things a normal human being will not do. Right? Even for getting identity cards the workers had to resort to stoppage of work, because no I-Card was issued nor was the request to issue one was quickly worked accepted!
In 2012 Bombay Dyeing had 160 permanent workers and over 600 contract workers. Then the company discovered that it is cheaper to get the job done by outsourcing rather than making it themselves. So reportedly they are getting it done elsewhere. The next step was to reduce cost so all contract workers have been removed, and two departments have been closed down – two are working. Reportedly fifty out of 150 staff is removed and the murmur in the company is that all will go by June end.
Why? Because the plant will close down by March end.
As a forerunner to closure, the employees were sent on paid leave from Jan 3 to 12. During this period many prospective buyers are reported to have visited this plant. Large tract of land makes it immensely attractive, for both, buyers and sellers.
People who joined Bombay Dyeing at various levels did not imagine that the plant will get closed down in merely six years. That not only destroys their dreams but also brings in a deep feeling of regret for having given up a job elsewhere to be employed in what they thought would have been a long term secure employment.
Many workers in this area near Ranjangaon usually live in joint families. They have land and agricultural income. That’s the only ‘Social Security’ for them, but no man likes to be unemployed and live on others’, that is to say brother’s income.
The Bombay Dyeing story brings forth many issues: The issue of social security for workers, the issue of failure to implement existing laws – that failure ‘allowed’ the company to manage for a long time by engaging only contract labour, the practice of engaging a person as a contract labour, then engaging him as a trainee, and then as a probationer – thereby keeping the sword of unemployment hanging all for about 42 months, closing down an establishment without payment of adequate compensation to employees, and generally neither complying with the laws nor following any good values as an employer. Perhaps the readers will find many more.
With Governments of many states amending laws to make it easy for employers who directly engage less than 300 workers [notwithstanding the fact that they employ hundreds of contract labour on the same jobs], will we hear more of such stories? Industry experts say ‘Yes.’
The textile industry in Mumbai set a practice of insidious people practices after the textile strike in the eighties – it is sad that it is now a tradition!

Vivek S Patwardhan
"What you leave behind is not what is engraved in stone monuments, but what is woven into the lives of others."

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