September 19 marked the 26th day of the strike of around 300 permanent workers of Tamil Nadu’s Motherson Automotive Factory, who are demanding the factory management to recognise their workers’ union, namely, Chengai Anna Mavatta Jana Nayaga Thozhilalar Sangam.
A conciliation meeting was convened on September 19 between the factory union representatives and the management in the presence of the Labour Department officials. However, no consensus was reached.
“Till now, five to six talks have been arranged between the both,” AICCTU National President S. Kumaraswamy told NewsClick, adding that the adamant Motherson factory management is not ready to recognise the workers’ union.
The major demands of the unions include rehiring of all the employees under the permanent category with no disciplinary action against the protesting employees. In addition to this, the unions have also demanded a wage settlement, along with Rs 20,000 to be provided to each in advance as a compensation for the strike period.
The management of the Motherson Automotive Technologies & Engineering (MATE)—one of the largest auto component manufacturers in India—has rejected all the demands of the workers. It has also suspended around 25 permanent workers—most of them being the union leaders—as a part of disciplinary measures taken against the workers’ union. Moreover, a show cause notice has been sent to each protesting employee regarding their ‘unauthorised absence’.
“The recognised union of the workers has submitted a strike notice to the management and the strike has been conducted in the lawful manner which is why the absence cannot be referred to as ‘unauthorised’,” Kumaraswamy said.
The protesting workers have not been allowed to go near the factory premises, even to provide the explanation which the management has sought by issuing the notice, he added.
To meet the production targets, the management has instead hired contract workers. According to Rajaguru, these individuals often belong to economically weaker backgrounds who are now facing the same exploitation by the management that earlier forced the permanent labourers to unionise.
“There are no weekly holidays and the workers are required to work for 12 hours each day,” Rajaguru said.
The increased work pressure on the contract employees has its consequences as well. Rajaguru told NewsClick that the number of accidents have increased since the strike, with management trying to cover them up. Even the number of rejections of the auto parts has increased, since most of the contract workers have zero or very little experience with the manufacturing machines, he added.
The district Labour Department, in all these days, has only paid lip service in censuring the Motherson management for the violations of the labour rights. A factory inspection took place in the first week of September. However, the conclusions of the inspections were not revealed and no action has yet been taken against the management.
Meanwhile, the protesting working unions have secured support from its sister workers’ unions active in other Auto Industry companies such as Hyundai and Nissan.
The All India Central Council of Trade Unions (AICCTU) – affiliated union was formed on July 28 this year to initiate dialogue on worker’s grievances with the Motherson management. The management, however, on July 30 denied access to the workers who joined the unions and were asked to sign a statement saying they won’t unionise before marking their presence on the muster roll. Finally, the workers served a strike notice demanding the management to recognise the union and put an end to the regular witch-hunting against union members.