Royal Enfield joined Hyundai and Renault Nissan to become the third automaker to suspend operations until the month-end over the spread of COVID-19 and to ensure their employees are safe. The pandemic has thrown a spanner in Chennai's auto corridor in Oragadam. OEMs in Tamil Nadu have now begun reviewing in-plant safety as COVID cases continue to surge.
While Hyundai and Renault Nissan were forced to suspend operations after factory workers put pressure on the management fearing for their safety, TVS and Ashok Leyland, unaffected by labour discord, have now stepped up in-plant safety measures and employees' health benefits.
Ashok Leyland, TVS lead the way
"We have 15 beds, which have been secured for us in one of the COVID care facilities that we've helped set up. So, these things give comfort to employees that even if I come in to work and if there is an incident, there is a safety net that the company has provided for," said N Balachandar, President, Human Resources at Ashok Leyland.
Balachandar added that the CV major has started frequently engaging with labour union members, in addition to rolling out a vaccination plan for all employees and associates. While the company has gone about procuring vaccines for factory workers through Hinduja Hospitals, associates and executives get reimbursed for vaccine jabs.
TVS Motor Company announced compensation of up to three times an employee's annual salary for a COVID-related fatality, mediclaim of Rs 1 lakh per employee, free education for an employee's children up to under-graduation, in case of demise, and a 24x7 ambulance service for all employees.
In a statement the company said, "TVS Motor Company will vaccinate around 35,000 direct and indirect employees across India. The company will cover the cost of the COVID-19 vaccine for all employees and their families."
Renault Nissan promises to review safety measures at plant
Renault-Nissan has promised to review in-plant safety. “We are reviewing our safety protocols and future safety measures, and will continue to have a close dialogue with union representatives,” said Biju Balendran, MD and CEO, Renault Nissan India, in a letter to employees. “Together we can ensure highest standards of safety when the plant resumes operations,” the letter added.
Renault Nissan’s statement came just a few days after factory workers said they were unhappy with the company’s COVID-19 protocols followed within the plant. There were three problems the Renault Nissan India Workers’ Union highlighted: insufficient medical insurance, full-strength factory floors amid the pandemic and cramped canteens thanks to fewer shifts and shorter lunch breaks.
‘Factory workers need a break’
Hyundai India’s labour union says that health & safety measures aside, all workers asked for was a break. “The Company delayed responding to us on the break that we had asked for,” said G Vinayagam, President of the United Union of Hyundai Employees.
“In my view, they (management) were keener on running plant operations only in line with what the government wanted for industries, irrespective of whether it was permission to stay open or having to shut,” he added.
The New Democratic Labour Front (NDLF), which had earlier called for a complete shutdown of all automobile plants in Tamil Nadu, said that what companies have now announced amounts to mere damage control. “In the second wave, corporate enterprises haven’t taken care of their workers. If you get COVID, you’re given leave of 14 days,” said MJ Sudesh Kumar, NDLF Committee Member.
He added: “In order to prevent further community spread of COVID, stop production lines for the next 10 days. Allow only factories aiding emergency services like power, water and oxygen to continue staying open.”
Employees who have protested plant operations say they will return to the factory floor once they reopen, but only to discuss safety measures and not with the assurance of manning production lines.