Hinting that his company was bracing for a fight to the finish, Muthoot Finance chairman M G George Muthoot said that there were no immediate plans to shut down Kerala operations.
“Perhaps it may be done as a last resort. But at the moment there is no need for such a move. Some of our branches that were forcibly shut down has started to open, and people who have understood that they have been taken for a ride by certain politically-minded employees are gradually coming back to work,” George Muthoot told reporters here on Thursday.
The Muthoot chairman also said that he would go to any extent, even seek the Centre's help, if any of the company's customers suffered difficulty in securing money or gold from any of the shuttered branches. “We will ensure that none of our customers are put to any difficulty. If anyone stands in the way of opening a branch to meet the exigent needs of a customer, we will even think of using the CRPF to open the branch,” George Muthoot said.
Earlier, when nearly 358 of the group's 623 branches in the state were closed down following an employee strike led by the CPM-affiliated trade union CITU, the Muthoot Group had threatened to wind up its operations in Kerala. It was said that over 95 per cent of its operations were outside the state, and even the little business it was running in the state was at a loss. It was even reported that the company had appointed a chartered accountant to find a buyer for its gold portfolio.
The chairman said it was unfair to say that Muthoot employees were not paid even subsistence wages. The minimum wages that have been newly proposed would have taken the monthly salary of a peon from Rs 15,000 to Rs 40,000, he said. “This would have been too huge a burden even for a company like ours and the association of NBFCs had secured a stay on the proposed wages from the court,” George Muthoot said.
He, however, said that he had promised the striking employees, in the presence of labour minister T P Ramakrishnan, that if at all there was anyone in the company who was not paid even the existing minimum wage, he or she would be compensated. “I know everyone is paid more than that,” the chairman added. He also said that it was a senior manager who was drawing a monthly salary of nearly Rs 1.5 lakh was behind the agitation.
He also refused to entertain the notion of secret ballot for the creation of a trade union in the company. “Secret ballot would be a folly. We are not against the formation of trade unions. But instead of a secret ballot, the employees will have to submit a signed declaration in the court saying that they want a trade union in the company,” the chairman said.
George Muthoot also said that it was not possible to recognise the CITU union. “Rules say that an union should have the membership of at least 20 per cent of the workshop. If so, then they should have the backing of at least 7000 of our employees,” the chairman said. According to him, the total workforce is 35,000.
Short of recognising the union, the chairman said that the Company has conceded most of the demands made by the striking employees. “We had transferred many of our employees in the wake of the strike. We brought them back when we didn't have to. Transfer is the prerogative of the management,” he said. “Didn't Pinarayi Vijayan transfer hundreds of policemen in the days after he took office. Did anyone question Pinarayi Vijayan for his actions,” he added.
Then, he said the incentives of striking employees were stopped. “Why should we offer incentives to those who were working against us. Still, we relented,” he said. The management's decision to put on hold the bonus of certain employees were also withdrawn, he said.
Though the Muthoot chairman had invited the press for an interaction, and had talked for nearly an hour, he refused to take questions from the media. “I invited you here to hear what I speak and not to answer your questions,” he said.
This so angered the reporters that one of them told George Muthoot that such imperious behaviour was best reserved for his employees and not the journalists. Finally, George yielded and took questions from the media.