Tuesday, December 8, 2009
INSIDE ACCOUNT OF HONDA CONFLICT
(New Series Number 206, August 2005)
Honda Motorcycle and Scooter Workers: Plot 1, Sector 3, Manesar. The biggest problem in the factory located in Gurgaon is – work, work, work and work. The factory was set up four years ago and one thing that has been on the rise is production demand and the burden of work. The 'saahabs' (managers) keep the pressure of work up, and if anyone is questioned, then you are told - “You don't have to come on your duty tomorrow. This is how things have to be done. If you can't, then you can leave.”
In this way, one line has been made to produce 2,000 scooters in one day, by work being done in two shifts. Production of motorcycles has reached 750 in one shift – motorcycle production work is an year and a half old. One scooter has to be produced in 25-26 seconds. In this way, production of 1,000 scooters has been fixed for one shift. But if, for some reason, this does not happen, then the B-shift has to make up to meet the 2,000 figure. If, in order to make this extra work possible, production is halted for half an hour during the second shift and then continued, then no overtime is given. If production is still not completed then workers are forced to put in overtime. B-shift ends at 11:15 p.m., and usually one must work till 1-1:30 a.m.. On and off, one has to stay back till 5:30 a.m. to finish the production of 2,000 scooters.
Parts are made on CNC machines, where one worker has to operate two machines at a time. Some parts have to be made in 15 seconds, others in 30, others in 50 seconds, and some heavy parts in up to 2 minutes 10 seconds. In all this time, two machines have to be operated together. There are two shifts on the line, but three shifts for production of parts. Working one shift is so tiring that overtime is impossible, but has to be done or you will be shown the way out of the gate.
Around 90-100 hours of overtime have to be put in every month. The company compensates for overtime with twice the payment, but we workers are very opposed to putting in overtime. Considering the speed at which work is being done, no one will be able to work beyond the age of 35-40 years.
At first glance, at a superficial level, everything is good in the Honda Factory. Any worker (even the one who has come in through a contractor) is given two sets of uniform, one pair of shoes and a cap on the very day he joins. There are 25 buses which transport workers from the home to the factory and back, and if there are few workers then even an Indica or Qualis. There are two canteens and a meal – roti, rice, two vegetables, curd, salad, something sweet – is available for Rs. 6. Every worker is given a coupon of Rs. 200 for tea and snacks every month. It is clean. There is a doctor in the factory at all times, an ambulance, Medi-claim. Permanent workers, trainees and apprentices are all given their payment on the first of every month, and those who work through a contractor are paid through him by the 7th of every month. Trainees and apprentices are brought from far, and they are provided for accommodation for the entire month. Some of the ITI workers brought in by the contractor work for 6,7,8 months and are thereafter sometimes retained as trainees. Trainees are permanently employed once they finish their period of training (one to two years).
Paucity of permanent employment opportunities and the desire for permanent employment post trainee-ship compelled us to bear anything. But after the incident in which a worker was kicked, we increased dialogue amongst ourselves.
Late year, in October, at 11:15 p.m. in the weld-shop, during B-shift, one manager kicked a worker. The next day, during A-shift, workers stopped work at 9:00 AM, to protest against this. When the manager who had kicked the worker apologized, work was resumed – this was at 2:00 p.m.. B-shift workers also stopped work. The manager apologized again and work resumed at 7:30 PM. If work stops in a factory for one day, it amounts to a loss of Rs. 8 crore.
Quarrels increased in the factory. This year, on 6th February, bonds were asked to be signed, and the management was very forceful about this. All the workers left their place of work and assembled in the canteen. No one ate food. No one left when the shift ended. C-shift workers also came and sat in the canteen. Next morning, A-shift workers made there way to the canteen as well, instead of going to work. Workers from all three shifts – 1,200 permanent, 1,600 trainee, 1,000 employed through a contractor and 400 apprentices – were congregated in the canteen. No one ate or drank any tea. The company called police in the factory. The D.C. also reached the factory. There was no leader among us – the company asked for 5 workers from each department to talk with. An agreement was reached by 5-6 in the evening – there would be no suspensions, the bonds which had been signed were returned (workers burned them) and the production would be completed.
Work resumed on the morning of 8th February, after having been stalled for one and a half days. Pay was not deducted for the period for permanent employees and trainees, but workers employed through the contractor lost a day and a half of pay.
In April, the company gave its annual increment to the workers: Permanent employees got a raise of Rs. 2,800-3,500. Trainees got a raise of Rs. 600 (even through the raise in April 2004 was Rs. 750). This meant permanent employees were now earning Rs. 8,500-10,000 per month and trainees, Rs. 5,600. One thousand workers employed through K.C. Enterprises did not get any increment. Their salary remained at Rs. 2,800. They work on production and operate the CNC machines.
Apprentices get Rs. 900 from the government, and Rs. 700 from Honda Company. Like all companies, apprentices are put to production from the first day itself, instead of being trained first. They work all three shifts. Most apprentices are brought in from far off places and Rs. 1,600 do not suffice for them. They get overtime through a calculation on their 1,600, not what other workers would get. Once a machine got spoilt because of an apprentice and because of which the line didn't work the entire day. The apprentice was fired.
Things were stable for a few days. Then, a fork lifter got spoiled and a permanent employee was suspended. Ten days after this, workers refused to eat. The work was heavy, and so workers would drink tea. Trainees, apprentices and workers employed through contractors were involved in this. Despite a lot of pressure, workers employed through the contractor did not eat at the factory. When this continued for a month, the factory gave the worker back his work.
Talk about relief through a union began. Workers would meet at the Devilal Park in Gurgaon at intervals of 15-20 days. Cronies among us would report the proceedings to the company. Some steps to align with registered and bigger unions were taken. The Honda company began to increasingly suspend workers over small matters. It began with workers employed through contractors, and by 26th June, 500 of the 1,000 workers employed through contractors were fired. On 2nd June, to protest against this, B-shift workers left their place of work and went to the administrative building and shouted slogans. Production had stopped for half an hour and was compensated for later. The company fired four permanent employees the following day and suspended 25. In protest, meals were refused and overtime was stopped. Production of scooters fell from 1,000 to 450-500.
On 22nd June, the company put up a notice that trainees whose training period was over would be put to test on 24th June, a Sunday. Those who passed the test and if considered necessary would be employed permanently. This, when till now the company had been employing trainees and there had been no test preceding this. No one appeared for the test on Sunday. By this time the number of suspended workers had increased to 50. On 27th June, when we reached for work, the company asked us to sign certain conditions at the gate. When we refused, the company refused to let us enter the factory. Over 300 staff, 40-50 permanent employees and workers hired through contractors on 27th June itself, entered the factory. Work continued – there were around 2,000 people in the factory. Police was stationed at the gate. Four thousand workers were outside the gate.
The administration was petitioned through the union. A procession. Even came to the Parliament during the 11th July session. But nothing changed. It was in this context that there was a clash with the police on 25th July and we were beaten with sticks.
Following this, claims and announcements on TV, in newspapers and by political leaders made it look like our problems would be solved. But on the instruction of the Central Government, the compromise struck under the aegis of the Chief Minister of Haryana has pushed us into hell. According to this, workers returned the factories on 1st August, and are filled with anger. Everyone is annoyed. Permanent workers are saying that if they had to sign the conditions of Honda company after all, then what was the point of doing all that they did. The 35 trainees who had finished their training are still out of work. The 500 out of 1,000 workers employed through the contractor, who were fired on 26th June have still not been hired back. Those who had been hired through contractors on 27th will remain. The company will not pay us for the period from 27th June to 31st July. Through the deal that has been struck, the workers have been divided.