If the trained Indian work force is being rejected for permanent employment by private companies, can Skill India succeed?
Renault Nissan Plant in Oragadam has been in news recently for repressive labour tactics, as permanent workforce has been fighting for unionisation at the factory. Now, over 30 Renault Nissan trainees are continuing on indefinite hunger fast amidst police repression, demanding employment as promised by the management. According to the workers, employment of more than 500 workers who had been recruited as trainees were terminated in 2014. They allege that the company has been recruiting and confirming trainees and apprentices since then, thus belying the statement by the company that decline in demand for cars had led to their retrenchment.
The protesters are young workers who have completed ITI from various parts of Tamil Nadu and were recruited by Renault Nissan in 2011 and 2012. Though they were designated as trainees, the workers say that they were indeed working on the shop floor and have been commended for their work during the 3 years. According to these workers, their wages were fixed at Rs 4500 for 1st year, Rs 7000 for 2nd year and Rs 8500 for 3rd year. As a comparison, a worker in a simple automobile shop would be paid a minimum wage of Rs 6000. The workers say that they were willing to accept this wage which is below minimum wage because they were promised orally, that they would be confirmed as a permanent employee at the end of 3 years and would have a wage of at least Rs 25000. (It must be noted that Renault Nissan announced a wage hike for permanent employees in 2016). Several of these workers also have prior experience, in Hyundai and its supplier manufacturers. These experiences were not counted as they had to repeat the 3 year training with Renault Nissan. The workers say that they took a low paying employment at Renault Nissan because they would be guaranteed permanent employment.
In 2014, Renault Nissan confirmed some of the trainees but laid off over 500 others without any notice. Some trainees who tried to raise their voice against this, were also terminated, according to the workers. Since then, the workers have been knocking on the doors of Labour Department and State Government with no avail. They say that have met with Labour Minister and Industries Minister, no less than 7 times. The Ministers are alleged to have said that they cannot do anything against MNC and were advised to seek other employment. The workers say that the same sentiment was also echoed by the Renault Nissan Human Resources Department which is purported to have said that the state officials cannot do anything against them. They also say that they are unable to get employment elsewhere as there is an unwritten upper age limit in these industries and they are unwilling to employ workers after 20-25 years of age. A case filed by 33 workers is pending in labour court with no end in sight.
As their struggles have continued for one and half years, the workers decided on an indefinite hunger fast on July 9th. The Deputy Commissioner of Labour called for a meeting on July 9th for trilateral discussion. However workers were disappointed as the Labour Department advised the workers to not protest and file legal cases. With the State not taking any action on their behalf, the workers have started hunger fast since 11th. Initially the police denied permission for the hunger fast in a public place and advised the workers to conduct their fast in a private place. The workers led their hunger fast in a private hall near Ambattur on 11th but were promptly arrested by police.
On 12th, the workers assembled near Gandhi Statue near Marina Beach and continued their indefinite hunger fast. Ironically, the police were heard advising the workers to take their protest near the factory gate. When the workers refused to give up their protests, they were forcibly removed by the police from Marina beach. The workers are determined to continue their protest however. They also say that the Renault Nissan Workers Union of permanent workers have also expressed solidarity with them and have placed a demand for reinstatement of trainees as part of their struggle.
In a press statement to the media, the workers and Mahendran, a social activist supporting the protest, asked why the state is silent on the retrenchment of indian youth in MNC when the MNCs are given land and subsidies to generate employment. Nissan Renault plant, incidentally, is constructed on a boodan land which was forcibly acquired from 13 dalit families. When the poor have lost their means of livelihood for the sake of employment of new workforce, and yet that dream is not realised, should not the state hold the companies accountable? If the trained Indian work force is being rejected for permanent employment by private companies, can Skill India that utilise thousands of crores of taxpayers money in the name of training the workforce, succeed?