Over 100 workers from NHK F Krishna Automotive Seating in Oragadam, along with over 500 workers from other factories including Renault Nissan, went on a protest on Sunday demanding that the contract workers at the manufacturing plant, be offered permanent jobs. The company supplies car seats to Renault-Nissan factory at Oragadam. The workers have been on strike from 12th July, following an alleged attempt by the company to keep some workers from entering the factory on Monday, the 11th of July. According to workers, the strike had caused substantial slow down in production, triggering a ‘line-stop’ at Renault Nissan plant, to which NHK F Krishna supplies car seats. This was also confirmed by workers at Renualt Nissan. To revive production, the company is alleged to have brought workers from its sister companies in Gurgoan or IMT Manesar, where they are supplying for Maruti Suzuki.
As the workers’ ranks swelled to over 700 on 17th July, the Tahsildar and the police asked the workers to disperse maintaining that they would arrange for a conciliation meeting with the Assistant Labour Commissioner. During the conciliation meeting with the Assistant Labour Commissioner, that was organized on 18th July at the SIPCOT office in Irungatukottai, the company officials and the workers could not come to a mutually agreeable settlement as the company not only refused to take them in as permanent employees but declined to even recognize them as skilled workers. It maintained that it has only employed them as helpers and not in actual production. Coming as a painful surprise to the workers, they have resolved to continue their protests until their demands are met.
NHK F Krishna is a relatively new company, having started operations in Chennai in middle of 2013. It is a joint venture between a Japanese spring Manufacturing company and an Indian company that manufactures interiors for cars. Having obtained the order to supply car seats for Nissan-Datsun, they recruited 15 workers on contract basis through a man power supply company called Grace Enterprises. The workers maintain that they were interviewed and recruited by company officials and were then assigned to the manpower supply company. This initial workforce soon expanded to include another 300 workers on contract. Two other Man power supply companies were also roped in to provide the labour force for this company. In 2013 the welders received Rs 7100/- and the rest of the workers were paid Rs 3500/-, as monthly wage. Today the welders receive Rs 11000/- and the rest receive Rs 6300/-. They are also covered under the ESI and PF social security schemes.
The workers, especially the 55, who joined in the first year of operations, have been seeking permanent employment at the plant. A senior worker said “the company had been citing difficult revenue situation and weak order books to delay that process. In 2015, the company began to take in diploma holders as trainees. This caused serious consternation among the contract workers as we feared that our jobs will be lost. While the company assured us that they were merely trainees under a government scheme and would leave after their training periods, we began to doubt their explanation and renewed our demands for permanent positions.” During this time, some of the workers approached United Labour Front, which was organizing workers in Renault Nissan. On 4th April 2016, a few workers joined the ULF. Workers allege that the company terminated two workers after this, which they believe is because of the unionization. But since then many more have been asked not to come to work at the plant. As the membership in the union increased to over 100, the workers placed three demands through the union.
- To provide permanent employment to the senior most workers (numbering about 55) and subsequently to provide permanent positions to other contract workers.
- Reinstate all the terminated workers, (workers who have been denied work at the plant)
- To raise the pay scale to a minimum of 25000/- a month and provide yearly festival bonus
The company did not respond to these demands and on the 10th of July (Sunday) they had a meeting with their state leadership on this issue. The workers allege that on Monday (11th Of July) the entire shift of workers, employed by Grace enterprises, was asked not to enter the factory. Alarmed at this action, the workers asked other workers to also lay down the tools and protest this action. This has led to strike like conditions since Tuesday, the 12 of July. While only a third of the workforce have refused to join work until their co workers are taken in, they are the most experienced workers. “we have to supply 25 seats an hour to Nissan, but now we come to know that the rate has fallen to 5 an hour. They are unable to supply enough seats on time. So this has led to partial stop of work at Nissan on Wednesday and on Thursday.” the workers said. This was confirmed by RN Technicians, who maintained that the seat line had stopped briefly on all days from Tuesday, with Friday being the worst. Workers at NHKF Krishna allege that the company has now brought experienced persons from their Haryana plants to shore up production here.
The demonstration on 17th July was an attempt to mobilize support from workers across the factories in this region, to their demands and to put increased pressure on the company management as well as the government to resolve this issue. When over 700 workers began to assemble at the factory gate at Oragadam, the police moved into disperse the workers. The Tahsildar, who came to diffuse the situation promised to arrange a hearing with the ACL, Sriperumbudur. On this promise the workers dispersed. But the story went sore for the workers who assembled at the labour office at SIPCOT on 18th. State level office bearers along with plant level office bearers of ULF, met with representatives of the NHKF Krishna and Grace Entreprises in the presence of the Assistant Commissioner of Labour. The workers representatives, who spoke to TK, said that the NHKF Krishna officials squarely maintained that the contract workers were only employed as helpers in non-core tasks and therefore they will not be provided permanent jobs. According to the representatives, the company denied any knowledge about restrictions on workers to enter the factory and said that they were surprised at this action but willing to take back the workers if the workers were willing to continue their present work. “we asked them, then who are the workers on the production line and they said that they only employ trainees on the line and there are no permanent workers. The ACL did not question them about this any further but how can there be trainees without permanent workers” enquired a worker’s representative. Grace Entreprises, the workers’ representative said, had argued that they were only eligible to supply unskilled workers and that was the contract. They too maintained that they were taken by surprise at this action. Interestingly Grace maintained that they had already filled the vacancies arising from this at NHKF, and would not be able to guarantee the reinstatement of the workers. The workers demanded that they should be given permanent jobs as they had worked for over two years on the production line as skilled workforce.
While officials of NHKF Krishna refused to talk to TK to present their version, the Assistant Commissioner of Labour, confirmed the broad arguments made and said that while the workers allege that they were on the production line, the company has claimed that they were only helpers. He said that the issue was about 35 workers who were not allowed to work at the factory. They are from one single contractor. When asked about the overall workforce, he said that there are about 300 workers, and some trainees. When asked about permanent workers at the plant, he did not have a clear answer and maintained that given that it is a new company, it does not have any permanent workers yet. He said that he will be advising the company to take back the workers in the present designation and status and advise the workers to rejoin immediately.
The workers felt clearly disappointed by this development and were seen half-humoursly mocking each other on their status as cleaners, loaders and gardeners. It was clear from the discussion with the workers that they were going to continue the struggle. As of Tuesday (19th of July) they had not rejoined work and were contemplating further action.
update on 24th July 2016
As the talks with the management, mediated by the Assistant Labour Commissioner failed, the workers refused to rejoin work as advised by the ACL. On Sunday, 24th July, more than 4000 workers from over 60 factories across the three districts of Chennai, Kanchepuram, and Thiruvallur, joined the contract workers in their protest. As workers of Renault Nissan ltd, NVH, Ennore Thermal Power Station and MRF from Ennore, Caterpillar and Muni Pachaiappan Textiles from Thiruvallur, terminated trainees from Renault Nissan kept joining the protest, a massive demonstration was held near the factory gate, even as the factory management tried to get restriction orders to any further protest. While the district Tahsildar and police inspectors tried to pacify the workers and sought them to disperse with yet another promise of mediated negotiations, the workers were in no mood to relent. They said that the interim order of the High Court did not bar them from protesting. They alleged that number of anti social elements and unregistered workers have been brought it to create fear among workers and break their peaceful protest. Workers representatives demanded that the Tahsildar enforce section 145 of CrPC and close the factory to maintain peace, law and order. Adv Prakash, the president of United Labour Front, addressed the workers in the evening. He demanded that the contract workers who have been working for over 2 years to be made permanent technicians with commesurate increase in their salaries and extolled the government to do the right thing by its people. He said that they are moving the State Labour commissioner and also exploring legal channels to resolve the issue, but reminded the workers that their unity, steadfastness and resolve to continue the protests alone could truly gain them success. Leaders from many other unions also spoke at the demonstration extending solidarity to the struggling worker. The demonstration closed at around 6pm. Working on a complaint lodged by the workers union, Factories Inspectorate has taken cognizance of the irregularities and according to the union, has issued a Show-Cause Notice, returnable in 40 days, seeking response on the tenure conditions of the workers and apparent violations of ‘Contract Licence’ issued to the factory.