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Tuesday, June 22, 2021

Anxiety in auto hubs: plants shut, how long before workers leave?

Unlike a year ago, the workers have stayed put thus far — however, this may change if the Covid situation does not improve and the shutdown extends for another 2-3 weeks, company officials and union leaders watching the labour dynamics in this industrial ecosystem said.

Written by Sandeep Singh | New Delhi |
Updated: May 17, 2021 7:09:16 am
If the smaller vendors supplying to the big manufacturers start laying off workers, an exodus to UP, Bihar, Odisha and Jharkhand may begin, these officials said. (Representational)

With companies in Haryana’s Manesar industrial hub closed for longer than maintenance shutdowns, workers living in adjoining villages are beginning to turn restless.

Unlike a year ago, the workers have stayed put thus far — however, this may change if the Covid situation does not improve and the shutdown extends for another 2-3 weeks, company officials and union leaders watching the labour dynamics in this industrial ecosystem said.

If the smaller vendors supplying to the big manufacturers start laying off workers, an exodus to UP, Bihar, Odisha and Jharkhand may begin, these officials said.

“Many companies had extended their maintenance shutdowns and planned to start production from Monday. However, if Covid situation does not improve and the shutdown is extended for another 2-3 weeks, contract workers employed with smaller vendors could start losing their jobs. Big companies will be able to absorb the cost, but the smaller ones would find it tough,” a senior official with a leading automobile manufacturer that has its plant in Manesar told The Indian Express.

Maruti Suzuki India Ltd (MSIL), Honda Motorcycles & Scooters India (HMSI), and a large number of automobile ancillary companies have production facilities in Manesar. Memories from last year are fresh in workers’ minds, and employee unions are pinning their hopes on operations starting from Monday.

Kuldeep Janghu of the MSIL employees’ union said he was hopeful the plant would start operating soon. “As companies announced shutdown, workers who come from adjoining districts went back to their villages and now we have sent them notices to come back from Monday. We told workers from other states to not go back, and they have not left till now. However, if the shutdown is extended by 2-3 weeks, there could be a problem… Workers will become impatient and may start going back to their villages,” Janghu said.

Until late evening on Sunday, most companies remained on track to reopen on Monday. A senior MSIL official said the company intended to start the plant on Monday, even though they may, for the next few weeks, run only one shift instead of the usual three.

“The showrooms are closed, demand is down, and until the entire ecosystem is up and running, one can’t look at the possibility of operating at full capacity,” the official said.

This means a decline in the requirement for workers over the next 4-6 weeks at least, which may leave contractual workers vulnerable.

MSIL had initially announced a maintenance shutdown from May 1 to May 9, which it then extended to May 16. HMSI announced it was advancing its annual maintenance activity to the period May 1-15. Hero MotoCorp, which had initially halted plant operations in a staggered manner for four days between April 22 and May 1, extended the closure till May 9 and then till May 16.

Hyundai Motor India announced a maintenance shutdown at its Chennai factory for six days from May 10-15, and Toyota Kirloskar Motor, went into scheduled annual maintenance programmes at both its plants from April 26 to May 14.

On Friday, Hero MotoCorp said it was gearing up to gradually resume operations by starting a single shift at its plants in Gurgaon and Dharuhera in Haryana and Haridwar in Uttarakhand from Monday.

Amid the uncertainty, nervousness and anxiety is increasing among workers employed in factories across the country, as well as those in other parts of the automobile manufacturing ecosystem, including logistics.

“The concern is growing. If the lockdowns (imposed by state governments) continue, there could be job losses and issues of livelihood across the ecosystem. Those employed with large companies may be protected, but those working with smaller vendors, transport firms, showrooms etc., may be impacted,” another senior official with a top automaker said.

In an effort to check the spread of the infection and break the chain of transmission, states across the country have imposed restrictions on movement and businesses, even though plants and factories have been allowed to function in most cases.

On Sunday, Haryana and Delhi extended lockdown measures for another week, until May 24, and West Bengal imposed a set of tough restrictions in the state.

Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, and Rajasthan have imposed a strict lockdown until May 24, and Kerala until May 23. UP and Madhya Pradesh have extended curfew restrictions until May 24, and Bihar until May 25. Maharashtra’s lockdown-like curbs, which came into effect on April 5, will now last at least until May 31.

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