“If I am jobless, my family will be shattered. I fought with them to get this job rather than get into farming,” says S Parthiban, a 25-year-old operator at Nokia’s plant near Chennai.

Like Parthiban, the livelihood of over 2,000 employees of the cell phone maker hangs in the balance as Nokia India fights an income-tax dispute with the Government.

This dispute has delayed the transfer of the Chennai plant to Microsoft, which has acquired the Finnish handset maker globally.

Recently, Nokia India indicated that there may be job cuts at the plant as the Income-Tax Department froze the assets last year.

The issue needs to be resolved before April 30 to enable Nokia transfer the asset to Microsoft as part of the $7.4-billion deal.

Nokia employs over 8,000 workers, more than half of them women, aged between 20 and 27 mostly from the rural districts of Tamil Nadu and neighbouring States.

Age factor Age is against us , says D Mani, who will be 24 next week. “No other plant in the Sriperumbudur industrial area (where the plant is located) will take us. They want people aged between 18 and 20.” Hailing from Vellore, Mani, who joined Nokia five years ago, can neither take up farming due to water problem nor go to another company. “What do we do,” he asks, his voice going desperate.

Malathy (name changed), 23 years old, from Sivakasi, is to get married in three months. She’s worried now. “My job is my biggest asset,” she said.

“We were all happy till six months ago. The management rewarded us on various milestones, including the success of Asha mobile series. Every employee got a mobile phone when production at the plant crossed more than 500 million units. Recently, the managing director said our factory was the best in the world,” said S Ambedkar, an operator.

However, in the last three months, the number of products manufactured dropped to three from a peak of 13. Most of the manufacturing has been diverted to Vietnam.

“We were kept in dark on what’s going on in the company. While there was a cut in production, the management continued to set targets for us,” he said.

A Soundararajan, General Secretary, Centre of Indian Trade Unions, Tamil Nadu, who leads the independent Nokia India Thozilalar Sangam, said the union is against retrenchment, closure of the factory or the plant becoming a sub-contractor to Microsoft. Workers want to either stay with Nokia or move to Microsoft.

‘Protest will be intensified’ Soundararajan urged both the Centre and State Governments to ensure that there was no job cut. “If the situation continues, the protest will be intensified further after the elections.” A statement from Nokia said the company has been in close contact with union officials to ensure the health and well-being of all participating employees in the protest.

“We have worked closely with Indian employee groups ever since our assets were frozen by the country’s Tax Department in September.

“The main union even joined Nokia in its legal proceedings against the tax authorities. We will continue to conduct an open dialogue as we navigate through this challenging time.”