Even as workers continue their struggle to form a union at Manesar-based SPM Autocomp Systems Private Limited, which manufactures automotive parts for companies like Maruti Suzuki, yet another worker met an accident at the factory as safety measures were allegedly bypassed.
On 19 December, 25-year-old Manish Kumar from Haryana had his finger cut off while operating a machine known as the Vertical Machining Centre (VMC) around 1-1.30 am.
This is the latest in a series of accidents suffered by workers due to contact with machines at the manufacturing unit, which saw the death of a worker on 6 April. Shatrughan Prasad, 37, from Bihar got caught in a conveyer belt.
Akhilesh, a former SPM worker who was fired in July during the workers’ protests after the death but has since been closely associated with the workers’ efforts to register their union, told Newsclick that Manish suffered the accident because the management had deliberately bypassed the sensor, the machine’s safety measure. Akhilesh said Manish was rushed to a private hospital named Rathore Hospital in Manesar by fellow workers who were present on the occasion.
“But the hospital in the name of giving treatment had sewed back the cut-off top part of the finger the other way around, the opposite direction. We came to know only the next day after some relatives of Manish arrived and took him to nearby Sethi Hospital,” he said.
“But Rathore Hospital gave us no written record of the treatment as they had refused to officially discharge Manish. In fact, the hospital made the workers and relatives of Manish submit in writing that they won’t take any action against the hospital if anything went wrong.”
Akhilesh said the supervisor who was present at the time of the accident did even inform the management. An official from the management visited Manish only the next day when he was already shifted to the second hospital.
“Again, the management made us submit in writing that the workers won’t take any action against the hospital or the SPM management. They said they’ll take care of the expenses, but the treatment is still going on,” he said.
Earlier this month, a report by the People’s Union for Democratic Rights (PUDR) on the conditions in the factory had stated:
“Minor accidents are a routine matter... It is claimed by the workers that small accidents like fingers being cut off happen almost on a fortnightly or monthly basis,” the report said.
“There were accidents in July 2017 and October 2017. In the first case, a worker’s finger was cut off and in the second, a worker’s arm got entangled in the conveyor belt. In such cases, the company pays for one-time treatment but no compensation is paid.”
The PUDR report also documented the struggle of the workers to form their union. The SPM management tried to foil the workers’ unionisation efforts by visiting the families of some workers along with local goons and issuing threats.
However, Akhilesh said the workers’ had submitted their union file to the labour department office in Chandigarh for registration, and the process was going on.
He said workers had submitted their charter of demands at the office of the Assistant Labour Commissioner in Manesar. But he alleged that the last few times the workers visited the office for negotiations with the management, the management officials would turn up with local goons and even an ex-sarpanch of nearby Kasan village.
The PUDR report, too, stated the following:
“It [the SPM management] exacerbated the existing repression and singled out those who are perceived to be involved in union activity and attacked them in multiple ways. Open and direct threats were given to seven workers in a meeting with the owner... Simultaneously, the owner used his political clout via an ex-Sarpanch of neighbouring Kasan village, and goons and bouncers were sent to the workers’ residences for three successive days. Besides muscle power, monetary incentives were used to buy out workers and force them to leave the factory.”
The demands of the SPM workers include that the management stop flouting labour laws and ensure the safety of workers in the factory, provide adequate compensation to workers who suffer any work-related accidents, provide conveyance facilities and allow them to exercise their right to form unions.