Milk distribution was severely hit in three southern districts of Kerala after employees in the Thiruvananthapuram regional unit of Milma went on strike on Tuesday.

The joint agitation by employees’ unions affiliated to the Indian National Trade Union Congress (INTUC) and the Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU) brought milk supply in Thiruvananthapuram, Kollam and Pathanamthitta to a standstill.

While milk provided by dairy societies reached Milma’s Ambalathara dairy, supply remained suspended from the early hours of the day.

Workers employed in the lower rungs of the organisation in various units involved in processing, pasteurisation, packaging and distribution abstained from work in protest against the inordinate delay in promotions.

They alleged that they have been denied promotions for the last four years, even while employees in the officer grade have been awarded promotions on a regular basis. Union leaders claimed that they had been subjected to such a “hostile stance” for having questioned the corruption of former administrative committee convener of Milma’s Thiruvananthapuram Regional Cooperative Milk Producers’ Union (TRCMPU) N. Bhasurangan.

Mr. Bhasurangan, former president of Kandala Service Cooperative Bank, had been replaced after the Enforcement Directorate arrested him for alleged financial fraud.

Promotion interviews that were conducted for senior officers at the Milma regional office at Pattom on Monday turned out to be a tipping point for the disgruntled staff. A case registered by the Medical College police against 40 protesters on the basis of a complaint by the Milma managing director for obstructing the interview process enraged them further.

Strike called off

The agitation was called off after representatives of the striking unions were provided assurances by the TRCMPU authorities to consider their demands favourably.

Following a reconciliation meet, TRCMPU chairperson Mani Viswanath said the demand for promotions will be taken up for discussion at a Board of Directors meeting that will be held on Wednesday. She added the employees will resume work from Tuesday midnight to restore milk distribution. A call on withdrawing the complaint against the protesters will be taken then.

She had earlier accused the protesters of resorting to violence and disrupting dairy operations that are considered an essential service.

“It is painful to see the employees trying to destroy Milma at a time when milk production and the dairy sector as a whole face several challenges,” she said.

She also warned of strict action against those trying to destroy the cooperative movement that has strived to protect farmers’ interest.

Ms. Viswanath added that the trade unionists had disrupted the promotion interviews which were scheduled for Monday and Tuesday. According to the existing recruitment and promotion rules, only three posts are filled through by-transfer recruitment at the head office-level, while the promotion committees at the dairy-level undertake steps for the other promotions.

The departmental promotion committees are periodically convened at dairy levels and have been promoting employees on a regular basis, she claimed.

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