The Ashok Leyland plant in Ennore near Chennai has declared five days as non-working days starting from September 6. This was informed to the workers in a circular dated September 5 signed by the assistant general manager of the plant. This is the second such move by the company after it announced four days as non working days in the month of August.
This is set to affect around 5,000 workers, out of which 3,000 are contract workers. Many other companies including Lucas TVS, Sundaram Clayton and Bosch have announced the closure or non-working days.
Chennai and its suburbs – being the automobile hub of the country – are facing a severe crisis due to the slowdown, while the BJP-led government at the Centre claims otherwise.
Sluggishness and Contraction Affecting Company
A release by the company states that ‘due to continuing sluggishness and contraction in the commercial vehicle market, the need has arisen to continue the corrective actions to safeguard the interest of the company’. The statement clearly indicates the ongoing crisis in the industry has further worsened.
The company has also announced that the wages for these non-working days will be announced after discussions with the Ashok Leyland Employees Union.
This announcement – regarding discussion about the wages – has not gone down well with the workers.
Union Demands Full Salary
The basic salary and dearness allowance for the non-working days for the month of August have been paid to the workers, while the other allowances were not paid. However, the workers are apprehensive of wage cuts for the non working days of this month. “The company has announced that a decision will be made on the basis of discussions with the union. But, we emphasise that the workers should not be denied their rightful salary, along with the allowance to be paid. Since the non-working days are now more than the previous month, around 1,800 permanent workers fear there may be a reduction in the payment. The company should come forward with a positive approach as the workers have toiled so hard to earn its highest ever profit during the previous financial year”, said C Thavamani, joint secretary of the Ashok Leyland Employees Union (ALEU).
“There are around 3,000 contract workers in the plants including in the apprentice, training and logistics division. These workers are the most affected since they are paid only for the days they work. They are not entitled to any rights like the permanent employees. The company should be generous towards these workers, as the sales of our company vehicles have increased even though there is a slowdown in the industry,” said Suresh, joint secretary of Uzhaipor Urimai Kazhagam, affiliated to the Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU).
Sales of Ashok Leyland Increased in Q1
The company, in a statement released on July 31, announcing the results for the first quarter of the current financial year reported growth in the sales of the company despite the decline in the Total Industry Volume (TIV). The statement had quoted Dheeraj M Hinduja, Chairman of Ashok Leyland Limited, which reads, “While the industry has witnessed a decline in volume of 17%, Ashok Leyland’s market share has grown by 4%. Despite a drop in TIV by 5%, our LCV business continues to do very well and posted a growth of 12%.”
The TIV has declined during the quarter while the company’s volume increased by 4% to 34.1%. The Light Commercial Vehicle (LCV) sales has posted a growth of 12%, the chairman was quoted as saying in the statement. However, it claimed a drop in revenue by 9% to Rs 5,684 crore from Rs 6,263 crores during the same quarter in the previous financial year.
Industry Registers Sales Drop In July
The automobile industry, on the other hand, has registered 19% decline in sales during the month of July, the steepest in the past 19 years. The industry sold a total of 22.45 lakh vehicles during July 2018, while the sales came down to 18.25 lakh vehicles in July 2019. The number of jobs lost due to the industrial slowdown stood at a staggering 2.15 lakh as per a report published by The Hindu.
The industrial experts attribute the slowdown to continuous increase in fuel prices despite the fall in crude oil prices and increase in insurance charges after the new set of rules by the Insurance Regulatory and Development Authority of India (IRDAI).
TVS Joins List with Reduced Working Days
Another automobile giant, TVS group too, has taken drastic steps to reduce the operating cost by cutting down the benefits entitled to the workers. A worker in the company said, “The management has announced reduction of working days by two days in a week and has said these days should be compensated later. Also, regular supply of milk and snacks to the workers has been cancelled. They have also reduced certain items from lunch.”
A union leader accused the management of suspending a worker who shared a message through WhatsApp regarding the slowdown in the automobile industry. The worker was issued a show cause notice for bringing disrepute to the company as a result of which none of the workers are ready to talk to the media fearing disciplinary action.
Workers on the Losing Side
The economic slowdown, upgradation from BS-IV to BS-VI from April next year and the push for the introduction of electric vehicles instead of diesel and petrol vehicles has contributed to the crisis in the automobile industry as per the experts. The responsibility for upgrading the technology and framing of new policies lies with the companies and the government respectively. But, the companies take the easy route of burdening the workers with job and salary cuts to increase their profit margins.
The workers of these industries, who are striving hard to earn their livelihood, are left in the dark because of the ill-planned policies and decisions of the government and the profit-hungry companies.