MUMBAI ~ While the main sites of 26/11—Taj Hotel, Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus, Nariman House and Trident— have become symbols of the city’s resilience, Leopold Café found itself in the middle of a labour dispute on the fourth anniversary of the terror attacks. On that day, ten former employees were on a fast claiming they were sacked for speaking against the management’s exploitative practices.
According to the protestors— nine waiters and a bill collector—they were paid low salaries (Rs 3,500), the proprietors docked a certain part of the tips collected, they often had unreasonable working hours with low overtime payment, and had to purchase their own uniforms and serving trays. When the idea of forming a union was mooted, two of them were fired. And in the months of April and May, another eight were sacked.
“The owners of the café (Farhang and Farzad Jehani) came up to me one day, just like he did to others, and told me not to come to work from the next day onwards,” says Tukaram Ilale, who has worked at the café for seven years. According to him, the proprietors also forged their signatures to show that they had resigned voluntarily. He adds, “We had to purchase T-shirts we wore as uniforms, and even the serving tray, from the cafe. For working in the morning shift, Rs 60 would be taken from us every day as a cut for the tips earned. For the evening shifts, it was Rs 80. When we made a noise about this, we were sacked.”
The café was one of the first places to be attacked on 26/11, and eight individuals, including two waiters, were killed. When the eatery reopened just four days later, still riddled with bullet holes and shrapnel marks, it became a popular terror tourism spot.
A court case is currently underway between the two parties. While the Jehanis were not willing to comment, their lawyer, Manoj Mirchandani, claims the former waiters are being untruthful. “They resigned on their own accord. They probably could not find better jobs and now they are trying to get back their old ones.”▪