EON, the new kid on the block!

5/12/2011, Chennai

The new kid on ‘A’ block has arrived! Hyundai’s new small car EON with all its comforts, style and a competitive price tag is making waves in the ‘A-segment market’. Sounds like a sales pitch, doesn’t it? Let me assure you, it is not. Just trying to get your attention to lure you into a small detail about this new ‘kid’ that websites like Zigwheels may not tell you.

What auto magazines and websites will not tell you is that the shop floor workers in the Hyundai Motors factory in Sriperumbadur, Kancheepuram District are on a hunger strike, with workers of different shifts skipping meals, since 14th November 2011. Some of them also got arrested while demonstrating outside the factory gate on 30th November.

The reason for the strike is a proposed cut in manpower on the assembly line. The rationale given by the Hyundai management to what it calls “redeployment” of manpower is that it is due to a “reduced work load for making” EON. (Note 1) In its notice posted on 24th November, the management announced a graded ‘removal’ of work stations in the assembly line depending on the number of EON cars assembled in a day. For instance, if up to 19% of EON is assembled out of the total output of cars in a day, then no workstations would be removed. But if it is more than that, between 20-50%, then the removal would range from 6 to 54 work stations, i.e., between 6-42 workers will be removed from their original workstations and reallocated work elsewhere, mostly in the ancillary departments like warehouse etc. Most of the redeployed workers are trainees.

In its notice the Hyundai management declared that the decision for ‘redeployment’ of workers had been taken after ‘a series of discussions with the technicians of Assembly shop’. The notice also seems to reassure, for some strange reason, that the move is not ‘reduction in manpower’ and that only jobs have been ‘reallocated’ and ‘manpower will be redeployed’.

But the striking workers seem to think otherwise. They claim that no consultation was done with them before the decision was taken. Infact, the workers, who are members of Hyundai Motors India Employees’ Union (HMIEU), which the Hyundai management is refusing to recognise, claim that discussions were held only with members of “management promoted union –United Union of Hyundai Employees”.  The workers also fear that a decision like this would set a trend that would ultimately result in the retrenchment of workers. The cut in manpower has also resulted in increased production pressure on workers, who claim that they now have to assemble a car in 40 seconds instead of 60 seconds as was the case earlier. This they observe puts them under serious work pressure and stress which can compromise their personal safety.

Similar issues had been raised earlier this year by the striking workers of the Maneswar plant of Maruti Suzuki in Gurgaon, who complained of stressful working conditions, churning out a car every 50 seconds, with very little breaks, like two 7.5 minutes toilet breaks and a 30 minutes lunch break in an 8 hour shift.

While auto companies keep rolling out new cars every few months wooing the middle classes with ‘best buy for your money’, stories of people working like machines to roll out these swanky new cars gets buried under the glittering launch ceremonies and the media hype.

Note 1: Electronic notice posted by Hyundai Management dated 24/11/2011.

– Madhumita Dutta

Madhumita Dutta is an activist and researcher based in Chennai and works on labour and environmental justice.

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