The Untold Ordeal of Suzlon Workers

The Untold Ordeal of Suzlon Workers

In my discussion with Arvind Shrouti (Option Positive) who is an adviser to several unions in Pune, we realized that we were looking at the number of people who had lost jobs, but we did not know their ordeal. Loss of job is the second biggest shock, the biggest being loss of life partner. For understanding the impact of current economic circumstances, it was necessary to understand the impact on their life.

Arvind and I decided to investigate. In this first part I will cover the ordeal of Suzlon workers and in the second part I will present the ordeal of Racold workers (to be published soon).

To cut the long story short, Suzlon hit headwinds and the performance nose-dived in 2012 when the Company failed to repay $209 million of convertible debt; it was India’s biggest convertible-bond default. Suzlon asked workers to part ways in 2019 from March onward.

We asked Pradeep (name changed), an ex-employee of Suzlon, to meet us. When you meet Pradeep, you are struck by his soft skills. He hopped in the car. Pradeep was going to take us to two colleagues – all had worked at Suzlon, and had lost their jobs between March and May 2019.

Pradeep passed 10th standard and enrolled at a local ITI or Industrial Training Institute. He moved to Pune from his village near Satara in search of employment, and worked at Mather Platt, and Tata Motors where he did three periods (a period is a term of seven months, after which the company gives break). He tried his luck at FDC, Goa but chose to return to Pune and joined them as a trainee for a year in 2007. He was then absorbed as a probationer, finally leading to confirmation as a permanent worker by end of 2008.  As a trainee he would earn a meagre salary, but his salary increased to Rs 22000 per month in 2019, and he used to get in hand Rs 19500 pm. This was in addition to the bonus; a recent amendment to the Bonus Act fetched him Rs 25000 as bonus in the last few years. His wife is a commerce graduate. “In our villages, graduate girls marry ITI qualified grooms as long as they have a house of their own and a permanent job. Girls who have done Diploma or Degree in Engineering marry similarly qualified boys,” he said, “Dowry is not accepted these days in our villages near Satara – you will high demands for dowry in Jalgaon area.” This information was interesting.

We continued our discussion. “Suzlon was doing very well but it hit a bad patch in 2008 or 2009. The product quality issue came up soon in Europe and thus began the fall” Pradeep said.

“I lost the job in May 2019. My income dropped to nothing, zero! I received about 5.50 Lakhs as retrenchment compensation including gratuity. My provident fund was Rs 2.50 Lakhs,” Pradeep said.

We were now joined by Dilip and Shyam (names changed). Dilip joined Suzlon in 2005 on a salary of Rs 4,400. Coming from a poor family – (his father worked as a ‘hamal’ – casual worker) he learnt the skills of Fitter at ITI, and he worked as a temporary hand before finding a permanent job at Suzlon. By May 2019, his salary increased to Rs 22,000 pm but the writing on the wall, about the company’s financial difficulties, was also becoming clearer. But it was a typical case of the proverbial ‘Boiled Frog’. Dilip and many of his friends failed to notice the lurking danger. 

Shyam (name changed) comes from Jalgaon district. He comes from poor family, and used to work as a farm labour (on Rs 70 per day) to supplement income and pay school fees. The fee of Rs 35 thousand for the ITI course was a huge sum, but somehow, he managed to collect and pay. He found job with Suzlon in 2012 and when he became permanent worker in 2014, he decided to get married. His salary was Rs 18 thousand then, enough to attract good marriage proposals. He got married in 2016, the young couple had a baby daughter in early 2019. Retrenchment was on hand. Those who did not wish to lose job had to accept posting outside Maharashtra. Suzlon transferred him to Chitradurga in Karnataka, sans any benefits. There was no option but to accept retrenchment.

Dilip had the same fate; he received all dues, including leave encashment, retrenchment compensation and gratuity, all told six lakhs and withdrew his PF which fetched him Rs two lakh more. Shyam received much smaller amount because of his fewer years of service.

“Tell me about your families,” I said.

“Dilip’s mother as well as Shyam’s mother stay at their uncle’s homes in the village. Shyam has two brothers who can share responsibility of looking after their mother, but Dilip is the only son and will have to look after his mother – and he has lost his job,” Pradeep said. “I am relatively better off; I do not have the responsibility to look after my parents.”

“Your wife? Working or home-maker?”

“My wife is an LIC agent. She earns a commission of about Rs 12 thousand. Today my home runs on her commission. Shyam got married in 2016 and their baby was a few months old when he was retrenched.” Dilip continued, “Pradeep’s wife is employed.”

“Employed! Yes, she earns Rs 4000 as salary. She is a commerce graduate. A friend offered to help looking at our plight. She now works in his office from 8.30 am to 3.30 pm and is paid Rs 4000 pm. She must leave her office by 3.30 pm because her timing is dependent on the children’s school timing – she must return home just in time before the boys reach home.” Pradeep said. “Sham’s wife has studied up to 12th standard. She does not keep good health (‘Her medical expenses have been more than Rs 3.50 Lakhs so far,’ Shyam intervened). Shyam decided to partner with a friend to set up a ‘Vada-Pav’ stall but it ran up loss, and they had to close it down. Sham now works for a small company – as a contract worker, and earns about Rs 12 thousand a month.”

“What about you?”

“I am also working as a contract worker” Pradeep said. “People now offer jobs only to those who are below 30 years of age. I earn Rs 11 Thousand. I will earn Rs 14 Thousand if I work 12 hours a day, every day, but I am now well past thirty-five, it is not possible to work twelve hours every day.”

“What about you, Dilip?”

“Sir, I am 38 years old, and there is no way I will get a regular job.” Dilip said. He decided not to find work, instead study English language and qualify for migrating to Australia. A large bunch of skilled workers from Tata Motors had already migrated to Australia, he told me. He expects them to help him when he lands there. The inspiration came from his month-long visit to Germany where Suzlon had sent him on an assignment.

How will his son who is studying in 5th standard adjust to a new country if he goes to Australia, I asked. ‘One problem is to be solved at a time’ he said and laughed.

Dilip has appeared and failed in the Australian visa qualifying English test two times so far. Dilip and his wife are aware that the time is running out. Because he is not earning, he is digging in to the compensation received from Suzlon.

“Can you manage in Rs 12 Thousand?” I asked. There was a nervous laughter and silence.

“No way sir! The house rent of Rs 5000 per month takes a major bite in our salary.”

“My son declined to go for the school trip. ‘When you are back to work Dad, I will go on the trip’ he said. Even a ten-year-old shows such understanding” Dilip’s wife said as she wiped her tears.

In one stroke they have destroyed future of three generations of all workers’ families” Shyam said, “My mother in our village has moved to her brother’s home because we are unable to look after her, my daughter who is one year old now is too young to understand how my job loss will affect her. I will not be able to provide education in a good school for her. And we two – me and my wife – have not stopped worrying. She falls ill often; it is only a week ago we had to get her MRI done and paid five thousand rupees.”

“Pradeep has been lucky; he has got admission for his children under RTE.”

“What’s RTE?” I asked.

“Right to Education.” (The Constitution (Eighty-sixth Amendment) Act, 2002 inserted Article 21-A in the Constitution of India to provide free and compulsory education of all children in the age group of six to fourteen years as a Fundamental Right in such a manner as the State may, by law, determine. )

“Private schools have to keep 25% quota for RTE. So, education is free for his children.”

Dilip was still thinking about the loss. “All friends desert you when you are financially not stable. They avoid you; they think as if we are going to ask for help from them.”

“Sir, even the relatives move away.”

“All relationships change drastically – even with neighbours!”

“One of our colleagues was scared to telling his wife that he had lost his job. He would leave home as if he was going to factory. His wife was working – so she would also leave home later. This man used to spend time in parks before returning home and later took to drinking. She found it out. There was chaos at home!”

“I think a good number of workers have taken to the bottle.”

“What will they do, poor souls. They can no longer do hard work, there is a free fall from Salary of Twenty-two thousand plus bonus to Eleven thousand without bonus! Some have not found work as yet.”

“Do you know that there is increasing incidence of workers leaving their parents in Old-Age homes?” Pradeep asked.

“Yes, sir, it is true. One of them left his parents there, gave wrong address, promised the Old-Age-Home officials that he will return after drawing money from ATM, but never returned!”

“That may be extreme case, but there are fights in families when a son who is looking after his parents asks his brother or sister to shoulder responsibility of parents. This is surely not uncommon.”

“I did not attend a marriage of my close relative. I do not know how I will be received, and I did not have enough money to buy presents to relatives. Misunderstandings happen as a result. We cannot be too open to them about our difficulties. Nobody will understand what you are going through, nobody will help. I have realized that one is on his own at all times.

On my way back to Arvind’s office, he mentioned that there is an alarming rise in the number of suicides among unemployed workers.

I felt sad, but not surprised. How about you?

Vivek S Patwardhan

“What you leave behind is not what is engraved in stone monuments, but what is woven into the lives of others.”