Auto workers demand that companies close factories or treat them as frontline COVID warriors

With the Tamil Nadu government classifying automobile units as Public Utility Service, workers want  companies to treat them as COVID-19 frontline workers
Representative image
Representative image

With hundreds of them in many automobile units getting infected with coronavirus in the second wave, workers want factories to shut down to break the COVID-19 chain spread. With the Tamil Nadu government classifying automobile units as Public Utility Service, workers want the companies to treat them as COVID-19 frontline workers and pay a compensation of ₹50 lakh to the family of the workers who died due to the Coronavirus.

Terming the classification of automobile units as a continuous process industry as illogical, workers want the Tamil Nadu government to change it. Some units like India Yamaha Motor and Hyundai Motors India Ltd have already started shutting down their operations and others have also started to shut down their shutters. Two-wheeler maker Eicher Motors that rolls out Bullet and other bikes has decided to close down its plants near here for three days between May 27-29 and restart production on May 31 which is a Monday. Eicher Motors told its workers that the short break will help to tame the COVID-19 curve to some extent.

"About 600 workers tested positive for COVID-19 out of 1,480 workers at Oragadam factory," a worker told the media on the condition of anonymity. According to a worker, production at the factory has halved due to issues with component supplies. Normally the production per shift will be about 450-500 units and has come down to about 250 per shift. As regards covering health care expenses, the worker said the company provides medical insurance for ₹250,000 for the family.

"Normally a two minute silence will be observed if any company employee dies. Two employees have died due to COVID-19, but no such silence was observed as the company did not officially announce the deaths," the worker said. With the Tamil Nadu government stipulating that industries have to ferry their workers in buses/vans, the company has not made any arrangement for the workers who come to work in their two-wheelers, the worker said.

"At Ford India Private Ltd's car plant near here over 200 workers out of about 2,700 workers have been infected with coronavirus and two persons died," a worker said. According to workers, the factory started operations on May 24 after being closed from May 11. Prior to that the plant was closed between May 1 and 5 to break the infection chain, they said.

A Ford India worker said that requests have been made to the management to implement social distancing norms like 50 per cent occupancy in factory buses, four-metre gap between tables in canteen, sensor based taps and others. The workers have also requested Ford India to treat them as frontline COVID warriors as they are risking their lives during the pandemic period to roll out cars. If they die due to COVID-19 their families should be paid a compensation of ₹50 lakh.

"The company can take out a life insurance policy or pay out of its pocket," a Ford India Union Official said. Ford India's plant near here rolls out models like EcoSport and Endeavour. "The management has been responsive to our requests. In turn they have asked us to support one-shift operation," a Ford India Union Official added.

The company provides two masks daily for its workers unlike many other automobile units that provide cloth masks once in a couple of months. On Monday the Renault Nissan India Thozhilalar Sangam (RNITS) put the Renault Nissan Automotive India Private Ltd's management on notice saying that the workers will boycott duty from May 26 onwards. RNITS' Joint Secretary T Tamizh Kumaran, in a letter to the management, said that unless their safety is ensured at the plant, workers will not come to work.

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