An estimated 50 to 80 permanent workers have been termed redundant and ‘excess manpower’ at Irungattukottai Hyundai factory after increased automation at body shop unit. The president, Mr. Vinayagam of United Union of Hyundai Employees(UUHE), the union recognized by the Hyundai management, confirmed that 3 robots were being added to the robots already in use at the plant. While an affected worker put the estimate of affected workers at 80, the union estimated the number of affected workers at 15 per shift. Hyundai employs around 2350 permanent workers and 3000+ contract workers/trainees.
According to Vinayagam, while the union has written a letter to the management insisting that any workforce changes should happen only in consultation with the union and that the robotisation should be stopped, the management is yet to respond to the letter. However he was confident that no retrenchment of permanent workers would take place at the factory. The fate of contract workers/trainees are uncertain. In 2008, more than 1200 trainees were let go by Hyundai.
In the mean time, the management had sent 35 workers including affected workers for reskilling program. The affected workers are apprehensive that this is a ruse by management to shift the skilled permanent workers from core services to ancillary services and increased automation can further increase casualization of workforce. As an affected worker put it, “We are not against automation which removes drudgery from worker’s lives but roboticisation of factories are aimed at displacing workers which has to be opposed”. Howver roboticisation of factories displacing workers is being attempted at several manufacturing sites – the prime example being foxconn which is developing robots for its apple components assembly(http://www.dailytech.com/
An NDTV video captured the level of roboticisation in Hyundai that was already prevalent in the industry in 2010.