As Maggi noodles disappear from stores and kitchens across the country, nearly 1,100 contractual workers are staring at a bleak future after being turned away from a Nestle India plant in Uttarakhand’s Udham Singh Nagar district where they worked round the clock to produce the popular snack.
The company employed mostly contractual workers in the unit at Rudrapur, nearly 300 km from state capital Dehradun. But production came to a halt after the state banned the production and sale of Maggi noodles over safety concerns.
Firms that provided contractual workers to the Nestle plant – where they worked in three shifts of more than 350 per shift – have been told to look for other options as there is no work at the unit.
“I cannot disclose the number (of workers) but yes, we have asked contractual firms to call off their workers since we are complying with the government order,” a senior executive of Nestle, who did not want to be named, told Hindustan Times.
The jobs of more than 400 staff on the rolls of the Rudrapur plant are “safe”, the executive said.
A questionnaire was sent to Nestle officials in Delhi by Hindustan Times about the lay-offs at the Rudrapur plant but there was no reply.
District magistrate Pankaj Pande confirmed the development but acknowledged there was nothing the local administration could do.
“I am aware that hundreds of workers engaged in the production wing of the plant have lost jobs temporarily but it is solely the company’s decision and we cannot intervene,” he said.
Dharmendra, who hails from Bareilly in Uttar Pradesh, said on Sunday that his contractor had asked him and others to “sit at home” till further orders.
“The production has stopped, so we have lost jobs as of now,” he said, standing at a police post near the entrance to the State Industrial Development Corporation of Uttarakhand complex, where the Nestle plant is located.
Pankaj Kapoor, one of the vendors who provide contract workers to units in the industrial area, said: "I supply 250 workers to Nestle. The company does not want them since production is not happening...No work means no pay."
Last week, India’s food regulator ordered a countrywide recall of all variants of Maggi noodles after tests revealed the presence of high levels of lead and monosodium glutamate (MSG), a taste enhancer, in the snack that commanded a major share of the market for instant noodles.
The row has put a question mark over the livelihood of the contract workers from Uttarakhand, who toil from morning to evening for a monthly pay of Rs 5,400 each.
In 2006, Nestle established its seventh plant in Rudrapur that churned out Maggi masala noodles and Maggi Oats.
A government order issued on June 3 by Omprakash, the commissioner of food safety, banned the production, distribution, stocking and sale of Maggi across Uttarakhand.
“We made a surprise check last Friday and asked the company to immediately stop five production lines. We also seized 5,156 boxes containing Maggi,” district magistrate Pande said.
State labour minister Harish Durgapal said he would consult Nestle’s management about the lay-offs.
“I will inquire about the lay-offs. I strongly feel that the labourers should not suffer,” he told.
Nestle has also approached the Uttarakhand high court to challenge the state government’s order and the case has been listed for hearing on June 15.