May 4, 2020 / 11:01 AM / a month ago

India's ITC, some unions lock horns over work during coronavirus - documents

* India’s ITC warns food factory workers to not miss work -letters

* Many workers worried about coronavirus, still in villages -union

* ITC laments “unfortunate stand” over “errant workers”

By Aditya Kalra

NEW DELHI, May 4 (Reuters) - Indian consumer goods giant ITC has warned some workers of disciplinary action and pay cuts for missing work during the coronavirus epidemic, leading to a showdown with at least two unions, according to letters from both sides seen by Reuters.

The workforce problems at two ITC food plants - one in Pune in the western state of Maharashtra and another in the southern state of Karnataka - show how labour issues weigh on Indian firms after a nationwide coronavirus lockdown forced thousands of workers to go back to their villages.

ITC is one of India’s top consumer goods company, earning $11 billion in annual sales and manufacturing staples such as flour, noodles and biscuits. It is also India’s top cigarette maker.

In notices on April 29 to employees of at least two food factories, ITC said the attendance of some workers in April was irregular while some had not reported at all, even though factories were open as food items are classified as essentials during the lockdown.

While ITC had not taken any action against such workers, the “absence without leave” would lead to cuts in salaries and “disciplinary action”, the company said in its notice without elaborating on any measures it could take.

The ITC Foods Employees Union in Pune wrote a letter to the company condemning the move, pointing out that many workers were back in their villages or staying in areas still under lockdown.

While ITC in its notice said it had taken adequate safety measures, the union said some workers were travelling in unsafe conditions without masks and social distancing.

“You are forcing more workers to report to duty which may put us all in danger,” the union said in its letter, dated April 30, and seen by Reuters.

ITC said in a statement it had seen “tremendous co-operation” by workers to meet the demand of essential goods, and it had taken adequate safety measures at its factories.

“It is unfortunate that a few employees ... have chosen to absent themselves from work ... It is disheartening that a union is taking this unfortunate stand to defend the errant workers which undermines the diligent workers,” the company said. (Reporting by Aditya Kalra; Editing by Euan Rocha, Robert Birsel)

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