A leading gold financing company, Muthoot Finance Limited (MFL), which has more than 600 branches in Kerala on Tuesday threatened to close down at least half of them following a strike carried out by a section of employees with the support of CPI(M)-backed Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU).
In the Muthoot headquarters in Kochi, employees supporting the strike and those against it almost came to blows on Tuesday and later company MD John Muthoot staged a sit-in on the road seeking an amicable settlement to the issue. The CITU-backed Non-Banking & Private Finance Employees Association has been protesting outside Muthoot offices for the past several weeks seeking a wage hike and better working conditions.
Deputy general manager of the company, Babu John, said out of 2800 employees in the state at least 200-250 are members of the union, but they seek outside forces to disrupt work. He said more than 70% employees are women and they were physically attacked when they came for work.
“The CITU has wrecked several business establishments in the state. It wants Muthoot to pull down its shutters. When the whole country is in the grip of severe meltdown, such acts will tarnish the image of the state further,” he said adding more than 300 branches were closed for three weeks due to the strike.
The company has appointed a chartered accountants’ firm to find out buyers for its gold loan portfolio of some its branches giving a clear indication that it will wind up its operations in half of the branches. “We are struggling. It can’t go like this,” said the DGM adding the company’s business declined to 4.57 per cent from 13.50 % due to recurring work disruptions.
According to the first quarterly report, the largest gold financing company in the country with more than 5,000 branches in terms of loan portfolio, registered an increase in net profit of 8% at Rs 530 crore, as against Rs 492 crore in the previous year.
But employees said the threat to close down branches was a ploy to stop the agitation and they won’t buckle under pressure. “It is a pressure tactic. Employees who have put in 10 years, are drawing a meagre salary of Rs 8000-10,000 and their working condition is really pathetic. The firm is making enough profit but not even one per cent is percolating down to its employees,” said CITU state secretary K N Gopinath justifying the strike. He said the CITU was forced to intervene after many employees approached it.
The worried state government has convened a meeting between the management and the striking union on Wednesday. State Labour Minister T P Ramakrishnan is expected to attend the meet. But the management said it is yet to decide whether to attend the meeting or not. “Majority of our employees are not union members. Then why should we attend it,” asked the management. But employees said the company was planning to tone down its workforce citing the present climate.