Covid-19 related labour unrest is slowly brewing in the automobile sector in Tamil Nadu, with workers demanding shutting down of the factories during the lockdown period and maintaining social distancing at work.
On Monday, workers of country's second largest car maker Hyundai Motor India Ltd stopped production demanding closure of the factory as about 750 workers turned Covid-19 positive during April and May.
"In the last two months, 750 workers have turned Covid-19 positive. Seven workers have succumbed to coronavirus. Hence today all the workers protested. Initially the management did not agree on factory closure. But when the workers started maintaining social distance at their workstations, production stopped automatically," Hyundai Motor India Employees Union (HMIEU) President E. Muthukumar told IANS.
Later Hyundai Motor India agreed to close the factory for five days, from May 25 to May 29.
Muthukumar said Hyundai Motor India has 16,450 workers - about 2,450 permanent, and about 12,000 contract labour/apprentice and others.
Similarly, the Renault Nissan India Thozhilalar Sangam (RNITS) on Monday put the Renault Nissan Automotive India Private Ltd's management on notice saying that the workers will boycott duty from May 26 onwards.
RNITS' Joint Secretary T.Tamizh Kumaran, in a letter to the management, said that unless their safety is ensured at the plant, workers will not come to work.
Citing the Madras High Court order which states steps to be taken to reduce the footfall in office and factories, the union said that the company has not taken any steps to reduce the footfall in the company's plant to prevent the spread of coronavirus.
The Renault Nissan Automotive is a joint venture car manufacturing plant of French auto major Renault and Japan's Nissan Motor Company.
"Five workers have died and about 850 have been infected with coronavirus at Renault Nissan Automotive since last year," RNITS President K.Balaji Krishnan told IANS.
He also said in 2021 alone, about 420 employees have tested Covid-19 positive.
"All our workers are young and they are dying. There is no social distance maintained at the factory. We had suggested reducing the number of cars produced per hour. This in turn would reduce the number of workers per workstation. But the management didn't agree," Krishnan said.
There are about 8,550 workers/staff/apprentices/contract labour (about 3,547 technicians/workers, about 2,000 staff, about 2,000 contract workers and about 1,000 apprentices) employed at the Renault Nissan Automotive plant near here.
It is also learnt that worker dissatisfaction is brewing at Ford India Private Ltd's car plant near here.
Workers cite Japanese two wheeler company India Yamaha Motor as a responsible one as it has announced closure of its two plants from May 15 to May 31 due to Covid-19 spread, citing "the health and safety of its employees is the top priority for the company".
According to Krishnan, the RNITS had requested the factory to be closed till the workers are vaccinated or the demand for beds at the hospitals come down.
Though the automobile and the component makers did not function during the March 2020 lockdown, they are allowed to operate with the state government bringing them under the continuous process industries.
A worker said the paint shop and the foundry is classified as a continuous process and hence the automobile factories are classified as a continuous process industry.
Krishnan said the Tamil Nadu government's order classifying automobile manufacturers as Public Utility Service ended this February.