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Uncertainty shrouds future of over 850 Nokia employees

Company to shut down its Sriperumbudur plant from November 1

Written by Arun Janardhanan | Chennai |
October 14, 2014 2:44:00 am

Seated in the darkened living room of her home in Tambaram near Chennai; desolateness writ large on her young face. Shyamala (name changed) says her world is falling apart.

“From November 1, everything will change. Without much of a warning…” The young girl is a nimble fingered operator of Nokia plant at Sriperumbudur near Chennai and has been assembling cell phones for past six years, unaware of the impact of corporate makeovers and impending shutdowns. While the 26-year old understands vaguely how the Industries Act works under state and central governments, she has no idea as to why her company has chosen to shut down, though she’s heard that it is “illegal” from a colleague. All that she hopes for is a miracle. “From a Tamil daily, I read a few days ago about (Prime Minister) Narendra Modi’s ‘Make in India’ campaign, inviting companies to manufacture in India. I hope he would retain existing companies first, before launching a ‘Make in India’ campaign,” said says.

Shyamala is one among the 852 Nokia employees who are to be fired on October 31. With no other cellphone manufacturing companies in the vicinity, the future looks very grim as her entire experience will come to a naught. “So far I salvaged enough to run a small house, paying rent, electricity, school fees and travel expenses of siblings and medicines for my mother. Half of my salary goes towards the repayments of piled up debt. I worked hard and purchased everything from what I earned,” said Shymala, who is one among 156 women employees who are counting their days of employment at Nokia’s Chennai plant.

On Tuesday, that the Finnish handset company Nokia announced the indefinite stoppage of production at its Sriperumbudur plant from November 1, 2014. It was an income tax raid in early 2013 and the Microsoft deal in September that year had led to the eventual closure of the plant. The plant that had begun operations in 2006 had once been selected as the best mobile manufacturing unit of Nokia in the world with a production capacity of over four lakh cellphones pieces in eight hours.

“From four lakh cellphones per shift, they have reduced the production to 40,000. Production of most of popular feature and base models of Nokia have now been shifted to Vietnam. These are going to be the final days and we have no idea about what will happen after October 30,” says Chithirai Selvan, 26, who is part of the Nokia India Workers’ Union. He joined the company at the age of 18 skipping his college education. “We were all thrilled at that time with a slogan of Nokia, ‘Connecting India’. Now they are disconnecting us… The IT raids and the Microsoft deal that shook up the lives of many. I worked for seven years and now I am losing my job for no fault of mine,” he said. After his father’s death in 2010, Selvan had shifted his mother and a younger sister to Chennai from his native Subramaniapuram village near Tuticorin.

After Nokia announced an option for VRS in April 2014, with a validity of one month, over 5,600 employees opted to quit the Nokia Chennai plant. The plant which once produced 14 feature models and five basic models of Nokia including the popular Asha series is now left with a single base model. Selvan said the initial promise was that the Microsoft would absorb us. “Then they said the Microsoft doesn’t want to take over the Chennai plant due to tax dispute. Still they promised that the plant would run as the Microsoft has promised manufacturing contracts. Now they are moving to towards closure of the plant. When the rules insist that the closure of a company needs the permission of state government, they are technically using the word “stoppage” (of production) instead of company closure. The state and centre governments are yet to react to this situation,” he said.

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