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Two days after the murder of the CEO of a jute mill in West Bengal's Hooghly district, unrest spread on Tuesday to two other mills in neighbouring districts with workers blocking transport.
The Auckland Jute Mill in Jagaddal in North 24-Parganas and the Hanuman Jute Mill in Howrah declared suspension of work citing the labour unrest on Tuesday. More than 6,000 people work in the two mills.
State labour minister Purnendu Basu claimed incidents of violence such as the one at the North Brook mill had taken place too and it would not affect investment in the state. "The North Brook incident has aggravated a crisis that was continuing for the past three-four months. We are confident it can be solved through discussions, and it won't affect investment sentiments," Basu said.
"We will take up the issue with all stakeholders, and will contact the Centre if needed. The workers are not children, and they should not fall prey to provocations by outsiders," the minister added.
While workers demonstrated in front of the Auckland Jute Mill and blocked roads after learning that the authorities had suspended work, the Howrah mill authorities issued a suspension notice after workers blocked roads demanding work for eight-hours a day.
In Jagaddal, the agitations were triggered by a reduction in the number of working shifts. As a result, the workers were getting less pay, and some even went without work.
In Howrah, a section of the workers was already angry at non-payment of gratuity money. On Tuesday, they demonstrated in front of a police station and also demanded their shift hours be regularised.
"Instead of the three eight-hours shifts, the mill authorities were running only two shifts. While this means loss of job for some, the workers in the two other shifts were forced to work for 11 hours and nine hours respectively. The workers said it was impossible for them to work for 11 hours shifts," Asim Mandal, a leader of the Centre of Indian Trade Unions, told HT.
HK Maheswari, chief executive officer of North Brook Jute Mill in Bhadreswar, was beaten to death on Sunday by agitated factory workers demanding an increase in weekly working hours.
Police on Tuesday arrested two more people, taking the number of arrests to eight. A dozen people have been named in the first information report.