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India: Milkfood worker union protest failure to receive full salaries during lockdown; company response included

An article in Tribune India alleged that Hindustan Unilever Limited’s Nabha factory failed to provide full salary to the over 1,700 employees, including contractual staff – during the lockdown. The article further alleges that the Labour Department’s decision to declare the strike demanding unpaid wages by Milkfood Worker Union workers illegal was arbitrary as the union was not called by the labour officials to represent their view.

Business and Human Rights Resource Centre invited Hindustan Unilever Limited (HUL) and Unilever (67% shareholder in HUL) to respond to the allegations. The report and Unilever's response is linked below. Hindustan Unilever Limited did not respond.

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Company response
5 July 2020

Response by Unilever

Nabha factory of Hindustan Unilever Limited (HUL), produces essential health food drinks marketed under well-known brands such as Horlicks and Boost. A nationwide lockdown was declared by the Government of India on account of Covid19 effective 25th March 2020 hence operations at Nabha Factory of Hindustan Unilever Limited (HUL) were shut from 25th March 2020 until 31st March 2020. The company paid full wages to all workers. On 1st April 2020, Nabha Factory of Hindustan Unilever Limited (HUL) being a public utility service was approved by the Government of Punjab to operate despite the lockdown on account of Covid19, to help consumers and society with essential items during the pandemic impacted times. 

The factory resumed operations post approval from 1st April 2020 which was proactively communicated to the union and the workers. However out of 1400 employee an average of only 150 workers turned up for work until 23rd April. Hence the factory could only produce 20% of volume. With effect from 23rd April, all workers of B Shift (evening shift), under instigation of the union, stopped coming to work resulting into a complete loss of production. The factory management immediately called a union meeting on 23rd April’2020 and discussed with union on the said issue, and the union was clearly advised to resume plant operations. While the union did not respond on resuming the operations however it did raise the issue of the pending long term wage settlement (LTWS) which is pending before an Industrial Tribunal. 

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Company response
5 July 2020

Response from Hindustan Unilever Limited

Unilever's response linked here is also Hindustan Unilever's response.

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12 June 2020

India: Factory workers' union protest alleged failure by Hindustan Unilever to provide full salaries during lockdown

Author: Karam Prakash, The Tribune

"Labour dept declares HUL Nabha workmen stir ‘illegal’; union to hold demonstrations", 13 June 2020

Weeks after workmen at the Nabha factory of Hindustan Unilever Limited (HUL) went on strike over the issue of salary during the lockdown, the Labour Department has now declared their protest ‘illegal’.  

The workers’ union at the factory, Milkfood Worker Union, had come at loggerheads with the company after the latter, reportedly, failed to provide full salary to the over 1,700 employees, including contractual staff — during the lockdown.

The Labour Department, in its official communiqué, said that the strike by the workmen had been declared illegal — under the Industrial Dispute Act.

The Nabha HUL — which produces essential health food products, Horlicks and Boosts — had to stop production ever since the workmen had gone on strike since May 23.

Meanwhile, HUL management, in a press release, — following the declaration — said the company hoped the workers would resume immediately, and pending Issues would be resolved by dialogue with union, thereafter.

...Meanwhile, JP Singh, Assistant Labour Commissioner (ALC), Patiala, said the decision was taken as per the act. He said, “The strike has already been called illegal by the competent authority, consequently, company can take action against the workmen.” 

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