This post documents the discussion which took place at the Department of Political Science in Delhi University on April 27th, 2016 plus some of my own inputs. The speakers were:
Ajit and Rajpal, Bellsonica Auto Component India Employees Union
Shiv and Dilip, Honda Motorcycle and Scooter Kamgar Union
Shyambir, Inqalabi Mazdoor Kendra.
Nayan, Krantikari Naujawan Sabha
Satish, Provisional Committee, Maruti Manesar Plant
The workers shared their experiences while working at the Tapukara plant in Alwar district of Rajasthan. For a detailed account of the goings on, please read this report by the Workers Solidarity Centre, Gurgaon-Bawal.
Honda Motorcycle and Scooter India (HMSI) Pvt. Ltd has three plants in India with a fourth one on the way. The first one was established in Manesar, Gurgaon district, Haryana in 1999. The second one in Tapukara, Alwar district, Rajasthan, third in Narasapura industrial complex in Bengaluru, Karnataka and a fourth one in Vithalpur, Gujarat.
Surinder explained how workers put in a shift to get into the regular payroll (permanent workers), but most of them are contractual labour and they’re dismissed for the smallest of errors.
“Workers hired as permanent also had to be in the ‘training period’ with meager monthly stipend for 3 years and then under ‘probation period’ for another 6 months. In reality, the workers have no formal training and are directly sent to the shop floor, where they acquire the required skill in 10-15 days or in a month, depending on the nature of work. All these internal divisions are to make the labour cheap, docile and insecure.”
The workers work in four shifts with a lunch break of 30 minutes and two tea breaks of 10 minutes which are not included in the work time.
“Basic pay for permanent workers is Rs. 6,500 and for contract workers it is Rs. 4,700. The overtime rate for permanent workers is Rs. 65 per hour, and for contract workers, Rs. 45 per hour. The total component including incentives comes to Rs. 10-12,000 per month for contract, company casuals and trainee workers, and around Rs. 20,000 per month for a permanent worker. Arbitrary cuts from incentives are the norm rather than exception. If a worker takes leave in 2 consecutive days, Rs. 4000 is deducted from the monthly salary, which mostly leave only the basic pay as take-home salary.”
“Indignity at the workplace is also commonplace. On Feb 16th, 2016, a contract worker was held by his collar, slapped and beaten up when he refused to do forced overtime for the fourth consecutive day because of his illness, was not an exception. Casteist slurs are regularly passed.”
On July 26th, 2015, the workers got together in a gram sabha to discuss the formation of a Union. On August 6, 2015, an application was filed with the Registrar of Trade Union, Labour Department, Jaipur. Company responded by submitting an affidavit with fake signatures of 21 workers opposing the Union formation. The 21 workers whose signatures were faked later filed an affidavit in the Labour department and the civil court in Alwar stating that they were in no way opposed to the Union formation. This was followed by the Management further challenging Union formation. The court responded through a Stay order (November 2015) on Union formation without informing the workers.
“On 14th December 2015, workers collectively submitted a Charter of Demands to the company. The Labour Department Alwar gave four dates from December 2015 till February 2016, in none of which the management participated. So all tripartite negotiations were snubbed at the beginning, and all legal Trade Union rights of Collective Bargaining and other Constitutional rights have been scuttled.”
From September 2015 to Feb 2016, HMSI retrenched 800 contract workers and suspended five worker leaders. Bouncers were also appointed to continue the violence against the workers. When the Feb 16th incident occurred, 2000 workers stopped production and demanded that action be taken against the Supervisor. The response of the Management was to call in the police that resulted in a brutal lathicarge at 7 pm. No media coverage whatsoever at this blatant act of violence.
Following Surinder sharing his experiences with Honda, Ajit with the Bellsonica Auto Component India Employees Union talked about the struggles of the Bellsonica workers. From 2007 to 2010, there were no canteen facilities, no water or food with 16 hour work days and how the management constantly bypassed rights mentioned in the Trade Union Act and the Industrial Disputes Act.
“साथियों, रिसर्च की टाइम नहीं है, क्रांति के लिए सहयोग की ज़रूरी है, he said while the students roared in laughter. But Ajit’s face barely flinched, he was dead serious. He continued,”पूंजीवाद को ख़तम करना है, समाजवाद का निर्माण करना है”. He insisted that the students should try and work in these conditions for 20 days and see how they would feel.
Several other workers went on to share their experiences.
Shyambir of the Inqalabi Mazdoor Kendra and Nayan Jyoti of the Krantikari Naujawan Sabha went on to explain the politics of neoliberalisation and ‘Make in India’. The informalisation and contractualisation of labour which has resulted in a huge informal sector economy which is 93% of the total employment. The six industrial corridors: (i) Delhi-Mumbai (ii) Shendra-Bidkin (iii) Chennai-Bangalore (iv) Amritsar-Delhi-Kolkata (v) Vadrevu and Nizampatnam Port (vi) Udhana-Palsana which are supposed to provide ‘economic incentives’ for companies might as well be termed as slave camps with inhuman work conditions were there are no labour laws, no union rights and unfair compensation for back-breaking work. There is complete control over time and space in this social organisation with regular surveillance. Negotiations with Central Trade Unions are also losing relevance in this space. While the minimum wage increase made news, workers say that they have not been implemented. The court order for Bellsonica workers which ordered the company to reinstate the workers after the Management failed to prove the unfair charges on them is an exception more than the norm. The compensations that may be paid are also after several years of delay during which time the workers may have exhausted all their resources. Legal struggle doesn’t ever reach a just end, feel the workers. Since 1987, this is the only case in which striking workers have been reinstated.
The few instances during which the news is reported also shows the problem. ‘Labour unrest’, ‘militant workers’, ‘loss of foreign investment’, ‘ease of doing business’, what about quality employment? Right to fair compensation? Human rights? Right to a decent standard of living? The fact that Tapukara is one of the best auto manufacturing plants in Asia, yet the condition of workers is so poor shows that projecting India as the sweatshop of the world seems to be the only way in which successive governments have been able to attract foreign capital and ‘create’ employment. Our entire demographic dividend is about to be sold to multinationals as cheap labour. Their proper education will be replaced with ‘skills’ suited to a particular industry. What the corporate controlled state needs is a nation of sheeple and this assault is part of the larger attack against students, intellectuals, activists or anyone for that matter that stands in the way of their vision of the world. Whether we like it or not, it didn’t start in 2014, or 1991. Someone once said, “Educate, Agitate and Organise”. We’ve never needed that more than right now.