The closure of the two manufacturing plants by Ford India Private Limited has come as a rude shock for its workers. The exit from India will impact around 5,500 permanent workers along with several thousand trainees, contract workers, canteen, bus and garden workers.
The Chennai plant in Tamil Nadu and Sanand plant in Gujarat employs 2,700 and 2,800 permanent workers respectively. The workers are panicked by this sudden announcement of the company as there were no signs of closure on the cards until recently.
The closure will also impact thousands of micro, small and medium enterprises (MSME) manufacturing of spare parts for Ford plants.
The trade unions and workers accuse government policies, particularly the much hyped ‘Make in India’ scheme, leading to the exit of an auto major from the country. Reports have emerged of talks being held with other auto majors for take over of the Ford plant in Chennai.
PROTECT WORKERS AND FAMILIES
The workers of the Chennai plant, which has been functioning since 1996, are yet to recover from the shock of the announcement of closure.
Senthil Kumar, general secretary of the Chennai Ford Employees Union said, “I am receiving hundreds of calls from grief stricken employees. The families are worried about the future and insecurity has grown manifold after the announcement”.
The 2,700 permanent workers and thousands of other staff members are at risk of losing their livelihood, after Ford India Private limited announced to close the plants, after General Motors and Harley Davidson chose to withdraw in the last couple of years.
“Most of the workers are in the mid 30’s. They have just begun their lives. It's impossible to express the grief and panic among the workers and their families in words”, Senthil added.
Apart from the permanent workers, the Chennai plant also had around 4,000 people on contract, training, administration, transport and other establishment works.
“The jobs and lives of thousands of workers in the Chennai plant are at risk. The union and state governments must intervene to save these workers”, said S Kannan, deputy general secretary of the Tamil Nadu unit of the Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU).
‘FINDING EMPLOYMENT IMPOSSIBLE’
Though Chennai is the automobile hub of the country, it is impossible for all the workers to find a new job, given the impact of the pandemic.
“Already there are a lot of issues in the automobile industry. The existing companies are forced to stop production due to the COVID-19 pandemic and shortage of semiconductor chips. Given this situation, it is difficult to find new jobs”, Senthil said.
The union leaders also said that only a maximum of 10% of Ford employees can find new jobs.
“It is important to remember the impact of Nokia closure in Chennai a few years back. Around 30,000 workers, most of whom were very young lost their jobs. Such a repetition now, when the pandemic has hit the country hard will have a huge impact on the workers”, Kannan said.
He also accused that the government of India has failed miserably in preventing the exit of international companies, despite having promised several relief measures. “The companies receive a lot of benefits from the state and union governments. Given the push by the Modi government to ‘Make in India’, the exit of Ford exposes the total failure of the policies of the BJP government”, Kannan said.
MSMES WILL BE AFFECTED
Thousands of MSMEs in Chennai and in its suburbs cater to the needs of the automobile manufacturers. These MSMEs will also be hit by the announcement of Ford.
“It is not Ford that is closing but over 4,000 SMEs closing. Tamil Nadu is the worst hit with this decision as it is known as a base for many auto giants. The whole infrastructure created for vehicle exports, movements logistics sector will be hit too”, said K E Raghunathan, Convenor of Consortium of Indian Associations (CIA).
“The SMEs manufacture spare parts for multiple auto majors. If Ford plants closed one line in each of the SMEs face the threat of closing down. At least 100 workers in each of the SMEs stand a chance to lose their jobs. In such a case 10,000 to 15,000 people could be left jobless”, Kannan said.
TALKS ON TAKEOVER
The minister for industries in the government of Tamil Nadu and principal secretary have confirmed talks being held with other automobile companies for takeover of the manufacturing unit of Ford.
“Talks are on between Ford and another automobile maker and some other companies too. The state government will facilitate the smooth handover of the land if they reach a deal,” N Muruganandam, principal secretary (industries), government of Tamil Nadu, the Business Standard reported.
“We welcome the talks for the takeover of the Ford unit. But, the government should ensure that the process is completed without affecting the employees”, Kannan said.
Senthil also echoed similar demands, but was uncertain of the final outcome. “Nothing is official until it is on black and white. Our livelihood must be protected and we request the state government to ensure this”, he added.