Central trade unions have opened some successful unions for contract workers in the Ghaziabad industrial belt, breaking the myth that it is difficult to bring them under unions' fold.
The fact that they report to their contractors and can easily be sent away if they become members of unions has kept contract workers mostly out of unions.
However, the Coca-Cola management is currently in talks with the Centre of Indian Trade Unions on various demands made on behalf of contract workers in its factory in Dasna in Ghaziabad, Uttar Pradesh. It is one of the 49 factories the company has in the country.
It has 300 regular workers and 500 contract workers and during the peak production season in the summer, the number of contract workers increases to up to 700.
The Communist Party of India (Marxist)-affiliated Citu's union in the factory, which is recognised by the management, has about 300 contract workers as its members.
And the good news is that the management is considering their demand to regularise the workers or at least bring parity in the working conditions between regular and contract workers.
At the national level, the Citu leadership is talking to the Coke management on the issue of parity of conditions.
The biggest victory for the contract workers at Coke so far has been concerning parity.
This had to do with the canteens the workers ate at.
There were earlier three canteens among which only one was open for the contract workers.
"We protested and now the management has closed down two of the canteens and there is a single canteen for all.
"The workers even get their food coupons from the same place.
The contract workers proved they were dependable as the rest," says K N Tiwari, general secretary of Gaziabad Citu.
The Coca-Cola spokesperson puts it thus: "Inclusiveness and citizenship are the core values of Hindustan Coca-Cola Beverages.
"Based on this philosophy, it is our endeavor to treat all stakeholders with fairness and respect."
The company chose not to comment on the details.
The case of Allied Nippon, the brake shoe factory in Ghaziabad which was in the news after workers were accused of lynching a management personnel, is another instance where a central trade union has successfully opened a union for contract workers.
The union made a comeback of sorts when it called a hartal on September 7, 8 and 9. It took two years to rebuild the union after the violent death of the management personnel.
There are 160 permanent workers out of the 1,150 workers in the Allied Nippon plant.
And the hartal was successful, claims Tiwari giving all credit to the contract workers.
The demand there is again for parity of wages.
While regular workers are earning Rs 15,000, the contract workers earn Rs 3,500 for the same job, he added.
"Workers have begun getting provident fund and bonus now."
In Uttar Pradesh Power Corp, the Communist Party of India-affiliated All India Trade Union Congress has a union which has 20,000 regular workers and 20,000 contract workers.
"In fact the main struggle of the union currently is to fight for the rights of those workers who work on electric poles and are mostly contract workers," said Prakash Singh of the Uttar Pradesh Aituc.
Mother Dairy's Hapur plant, which has 1,100 contract workers and 150 permanent workers, has a trade union of Aituc where these workers have membership.
Mother Dairy officials did not respond to queries about their union.