The automobile industry in Chennai is witnessing another workers’ strike as the employees from Asahi, a Japanese multinational which produces windshields and window glass panes for the automobile sector, are on strike against the unlawful dismissal and suspension of employees. They are also demanding fair wages. The strike which began on March 25 is yet to yield any results.
Following the pattern of recent strikes in other automotive companies, about 200 permanent workers in the company are on strike. Also, there are 800 contract workers and 250 trainees working in the company. The striking workers are long-term employees who had joined the company between 2004 and 2007. They are part of the union that is affiliated to Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU).
History of Asahi Workers’ Protests
Workers protests in Asahi started in 2007 when the workers went on strike for better wages. Following the popular norms, an internal union was set up in the company in 2012, which had to be suspended following its failure in resolving the issues.
It is alleged that the administration’s harassment of workers increased in 2015 when the permanent employees asked the management to recognise 10 years of their service in a public gathering. This was denied and the management started targeting the leaders of different committees. Over 15 workers were suspended and more than 100 were given notices. When the workers moved legally against this under the United Labour Federation (ULF) in 2017, the management promised them that they will conduct an enquiry and then reinstate the suspended workers. Instead, 28 workers were terminated on October 11, 2018.
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Remaining workers in the company had to go through severe harassment in the hands of authorities. Leaves were denied and overtime was not given for the extra hours put in by the workers. When the terminated workers tried to reach the managing director in headquarters in Gurgaon, they were not even allowed to see him.
Following this, workers joined CITU and produced a charter of demands in January. The management retaliated by suspending 5 workers including an office bearer.
The striking workers are now demanding the labour department to intervene in the matter. Though there have been many conciliatory meetings by labour department, they have failed a resolution to the workers issues.
The next conciliatory meeting is to be held on April 4, said Kannan Soundararajan of CITU. “If that meeting fails to reach any resolutions, we will strengthen our protests. Even though it is election time and some constraints are there, the strike will go on,” he added.
Continuous Workers Struggles in Automobile Factories in TN
The condition of workers in Asahi is similar to many other automobile factories in Tamil Nadu. When the permanent employees try to unionise for the right to bargain wages, the management retaliates by suspending or terminating office bearers. The production in these factories continue with the contractual workers and trainees who are legally not allowed for production work. But this violation is being ignored in majority of cases and the striking workers usually have to bear the brunt.
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When the workers in MSI, Kanchipuram, went on strike, the management used National Employability Enhancement Mission (NEEM) employees for production work and resumed functioning. This caused the strike to go on for about 80 days.
In many factories, the management does not accord permanent status to employees. In 2016, Tamil Nadu witnessed one of the largest protests by contract workers. More than 4,000 workers from about 60 companies from three districts (Chennai, Kanchipuram and Thiruvallur) joined the protest by contract workers from NHK F Krishna Automotive Seating company, demanding permanent status. Many a times these workers became subject of wrath of the managements and lost their livelihood altogether.
In the second edition of TN global investors summit that happened in January, the Edappadi government had secured investment worth Rs. 3.4 lakh crore. Ten of thousands of crores worth investments were promised in the automotive sector alone by major players like Hyundai. Even though this achievement helped the government to boast about the industry-friendly atmosphere in the state, in reality, the workers are being denied of their basic rights from this very sector.
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