In his nationally televised speech on the eve of New Year, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said how he was proud of people of India who had stood with him through pain and hardships. Not withstanding the fact that the speech itself was a mockery of basic economic facts sounded like rubbing salt on the wound of those who have lost their jobs and livelihoods. By claiming that owing to demonetization demand is down, factories are laying off thousands of workers all across the country. This has become clearly evident in the Gurgaon-Manesar DMIC corridor where contract workers in Honda factories (Manesar , Tapukera) as well as many other factories are either being removed or are being placed on an indefinite leave.
Even though this whole exercise of demonetization is supposedly a fight against corruption and black money, it has been ironically used by capitalist class in (1) continuing their (corrupt) practice of retrenching contract and casual workers at will in light of decrease in demand and in certain cases, (2) using the excuse of demonetization to lay off section of contract workers who have worked in a company for a number of years.
Most recent example of these practices in Gurgaon is the Hero Motocorp, a factory based in Manesar which started production in 1996 and has employed contract workers since. In a devastating blow, over 900 long-term contract workers, who who have worked there between 6 to 9 years, have been placed on an indefinite leave thanks to Modi’s “surgical strike on black money”. These workers have worked in the core production in the factory in violation of provisions of Contract Labour Abolishment Act. Of course corrupt practices like not making them permanent as required by the law has not caught the Prime Minister’s attention. Or perhaps it has, as his government would like to turn this “permanent contractualization” into a legal practice via labour law reforms throughout the country .
Hero Management has not called it laying-off, but workers have no idea if they will ever be taken back. After toiling there for up to 9 years, hundreds have been left overnight without any work. These contract workers are from all over the country, namely Odisha, Bihar , UP, Andhra Pradesh etc. Many of them have joined Hero factory straight after completing ITI diplomas and are in their early or mid twenties. This surgical-strike on contract workers started in last week of November where every day a batch of 15-20 workers were being retrenched. Finally in December this process really picked up steam and a huge number of workers have been left without work and pay. Some of the workers told us that not having a platform like a union to stand with, workers have been left without any support. Most of the workers we spoke to did not even know that there was a legal provision for them to form a union and claim rights under Industrial disputes and contract labour act.
What makes the workers very sceptical about whether they ever will be taken back is the fact that contract workers who have worked there for less then 6 years have not been removed. According to some workers we spoke to, this hints at one of two possibilities. Either a new batch of contract workers will be hired so the legal hassle of not regularizing long term contract workers is avoided, or the production will be shifted elsewhere, (A new Hero factory has come up already in Gujarat). Still many of them retain a faith in the judiciary and legal procedures and think that they will be taken back as law will take its course.
To highlight their issues, workers organized a protest rally on January 2nd, to the deputy commissioner’s office . They also did pamphleteering explaining their condition to the workers of various companies.
On January 3rd, a meeting was called in Assistant Labour commissioner’s (ALC) office . But the Management met Assistant Labour Commissioner(ACL) in the morning without the workers being present there. It toed the usual line of how contract workers were not the company’s responsibility and refused to either guarantee that workers would be taken back immediately or give them half salaries for the time they are placed on leave. When the workers along with their contractor met the ACL, contractor tried to negotiate with the workers that he would try to find them job elsewhere as it is unlikely that Hero motocorp would hire them back. Workers refused to accept this. They have decided to submit a report on January 6th regarding their work in the core production for the period ranging from 6 to 9 years. Contractor will also submit his report but during the meeting denied having any knowledge of whether workers worked in core production or not.
This is the situation majority of working class faces in our country today. After toiling for a number of years on the shop floor, it finds itself in a Kafkaesque situation where it has to prove that it ever was part of the core production process during all those years.
This is also an explicit evidence of corruption that the capitalist class engages in with regards to contract and casual workers . To begin with it uses the contract workers in main production process as if they are permanent workers , an illegal practice. Then when these workers are retrenched or place on leave, it refuses to adequately pay or compensate them by claiming that they were never involved in the core production.
Workers have decided to intensify their struggle from tomorrow by doing a day long hunger strike in front of Deputy Commissioner’s office. A number of workers from surrounding factories as well as activists from various organization are expected to participate.