No one stands with Honda workers

Corporate wrath Workers injured in the attack at the factory on 16 February
Corporate wrath Workers injured in the attack at the factory on 16 February

The tussle between workers and Honda management started following demands of forming worker union. Despite opposition from management, a group of workers on 6 August 2015 process of forming “Honda Motorcycles and Scooter Kaamgar Union” and applied at Labour Department, Jaipur for registration.

With this began threats, offers of allurement and force to ensure that workers fail in their endeavour. Meanwhile in a meeting of employees, Naresh Mehta was elected as president of the workers representative body and 21 members proposed the formation of Honda Tapukara union.

As per claims of workers, a letter, specifying that workers are not in support of formation of the union, was submitted to the Registrar of Trade Union Office. Signature of 21 members were allegedly forged. “We have 20 signed copies of over 3000 workers supporting formation of the union. Then why will our proposers of union back out?” says Dilip showing the piles of document which has signature of workers with their designation. “Management not only forged their signs but used non-members to put forth such claims.”

The district court stayed the registration process of the union. Refuting the claims of HMSI management that workers want to derail the production process and are not communicating, workers representative body HMS Kaamgaar Samooh called for meetings with the management.

“Considering our demand, Jaipur’s concerned deputy labour commissioner called four meetings to resolve the issues,” says Dilip. Meetings of 11 and 21 January and 1 and 8 February failed as HMSI management refused to attend.

Interestingly, majority of these workers are graduates and many were hired through campus placement. When asked what forced them to form a union, a worker says, “We are confounded by such questions. We are not asking for something illegal, it is well within our constitutional rights.

“ However, Tapas who is also a permanent employee of HMSI , tells the harrowing tale of production rules in Tapukara. “We produce best work of Honda amongst all its factories. Despite this, the smallest mistake costs us our job. It can be a phone on duty or an extra day off,” says Tapas who hails from Odisha. One of the workers at 2F, who met with an accident while coming to office and had to go on medical leave for 10-12 days, was fired months later, citing this as a reason.

These are tactful suspensions and retrenchments, a general trend across industries. Under 25 F of Industrial Disputes Act 1947, a company’s liability in terms of compensation, retrenchment and grounds of retrenchment becomes stronger and binding if a temporary worker is employed for 240 days. To avoid such liabilities, contractual workers are fired on frivolous grounds.

Tapukara factory, as acknowledged by the management, is best factory in terms of production speed. Despite this, HMSI  workers are asked to work over time (OT) and meet manpower requirements for spare parts production. “And yes OT is not a choice but a forced order.”

One is reminded of Charlie Chaplin’s Modern Times as Surender Kumar narrates their woes, “Timing of assembly line has been reduced from 20-22 seconds per activity to 18 seconds. In days when a particular department is running behind target production, ten minute tea breaks are cancelled, we don’t even get to drink water for hours.” A 13 member committee has been formed by union to resolve the crisis, which includes workers’ representatives from Delhi NCR.

From labour department to state and union labour ministries to Human Rights Commission in Delhi, the workers have run from pillar to post. As one recalls the long drawn struggle in 2005 at Honda’s Manesar plant, it becomes clear that the company’s position is anti-worker like in most other auto plants.