In a setback for the Renault Nissan Automotive India Private Ltd, the Madras High Court on Tuesday said it cannot alter the agreement reached earlier between the management and the workmen in the presence of an official from the Directorate of Industrial Safety at the unilateral insistence of the management.
The court also ordered a senior official of Directorate of Industrial Safety to visit the Renault Nissan Automotive factory and also other comparable passenger vehicle makers located near here so as to arrive at a uniform guideline on maintenance of social distancing at the shop floors of all automobile factories.
Renault Nissan Automotive is a Franco-Japanese car making joint venture near here rolling out Renault and Nissan badged vehicles.
The worker's union Renault Nissan India Thozhilalar Sangam (RNITS) had approached the Madras High Court citing non-adherence to the COVID-19 safety protocol while operating the plant.
Early this month, the company and the worker's union Renault Nissan India Thozhilalar Sangam (RNITS) had signed an agreement on maintaining the social distance at the shopfloor level.
As per the agreement, the two parties had agreed for the empty pitch ratio of 3:1 in the trim and chassis and body shop.
"Simply put, after three cars in the conveyor belt, one slot will be empty so that a worker need not move to the next workstation to complete his work," RNITS President K. Balaji Krishnan had told IANS.
When the case came up for hearing on Tuesday the counsel for Renault Nissan Automotive said none of the other automotive units -- Hyundai Motor, Ford India, BMW, Daimler and others- located near here or in the country like Maruti are maintaining the 3:1 empty pitch.
Stating that Renault Nissan Automotive should not be singled out and added thatA the company has taken sufficient measures to maintain social distance at its plant.
Pointing out the Tamil Nadu government's notification, he said, there should be adequate social distancing and it depends on the industry.
He also wondered why Renault Nissan Automotive workers are complaining when the workers of Hyundai Motor don't.
According to him, if all others (other automotive units) are doing marvelously during COVID then what is the issue with Renault Nissan Automotive and one has to keep in mind the industry practice.
The court observed that it has genuine fears and there cannot be compromise on the health of the workers while production has to go on.
On his part the counsel for RNITS said as per the National Directive for COVID safety, individuals should maintain six feet social distance at public places.
He said there was no application of mind by the state government while allowing the automotive units to carry on production.
Pointing out that the official of the Directorate of Industrial Safety suggested the 3:1 empty pitch while the management wants full production as if there is no lockdown.
He said during the last one week 21 more Renault Nissan Automotive workers/employees got infected with COVID-19.
Recalling the Charlie Chaplin movie Modern Times, the Union's counsel said a car production line is similar to that.
Observing that the conditions prevailing in other factories may not be identical with each other, the court said oranges and apples may not be compared by the number of units produced.
The court directed the Directorate of Industrial Safety to depute its representative to visit Renault Nissan Automotive factory and also other comparable passenger vehicle makers to ensure uniform guidelines are maintained.
The court also ordered Renault Nissan Automotive to follow the present arrangement and not to tweak the production norms agreed earlier with the workers' union.
The court also asked the Tamil Nadu government to file its counter affidavit on the matter.
The Directorate of Industrial Safety and Health had issued a show cause notice to Renault Nissan Automotive for contraventions noticed under the Factories Act and other labour laws.