India is under pressure. Whether it be the right to dissent, paid media interference, caste reservations, water problems, nationalist and anti-nationalist agenda, insurgency or riots, February has witnessed it all. While media coverage is limited to what gets the nation’s attention, media prosecution, or media blackout, an important matter that’s been sidelined is the protest at Honda Two Wheelers Tapukara plant in Rajasthan.
To begin with, four Tapukara plant workers’ contract was terminated by Honda Two Wheelers in the first week of February ’16 following a two-month disciplinary inquiry on their suspension after it was found the charges on them were true. The workers were accused of creating an atmosphere of unrest within factory premises, while also attempting to incite other workers to stall production.
Honda Two Wheelers says on 16th February, 2016, the terminated four with help from 50 external supporters with vested interests from neighboring states resorted to an illegal strike inside Honda’s 2nd plant premises. The group blocked the exit gates of the plant, and in doing so, effectively held about 1,000 A-Shift workers hostage inside the plant.
Separately, a group of 40 strong blocked entry of B- Shift employees to the plant. Those within plant premises then began damaging plant machinery and posed a threat to workers trapped inside. Those outside started pelting stones at the police force and security to in an attempt to forcefully enter the plant.
Police intervention and use of mild force was deemed necessary to disperse disruptive elements outside and free workers within after clearing the factory gate.
Production resumed on 17th February, 2016 once the damage to machinery the previous day was fixed. Honda Two Wheelers appealed to its second factory workers not to fear the situation, and report back on duty. The message was well received, and since the past five days, more and more associates have started resuming duties in the shifts. Today, 22nd February, 2016 production has returned to normalcy in Honda’s second factory operations, and about 80 percent of workers are back at the plant, and have resumed their duties.
A YouthkiAwaaz feature titled The Real Reason Why Over 4000 Workers From Honda Are Protesting For The Past 5 Days sees Honda two wheelers categorically deny the report by saying “It is incorrect that 4,000 workers are on strike. That is not true.” The report elaborates that on 16th February 2016, a supervisor physically assaulted a contract worker at the HMSI Paint Shop. The worker refused to work overtime and upon protesting, the supervisor grabbed his throat, and attacked him. The worker pleaded ill health having worked overtime for the past few days but his reasoning wasn’t considered, and the assault continued. In a show of solidarity, other workers chose to resort to a strike.
In an alternate account of events, 2,000 workers of Shift A sat in protest inside the factory, and 1,000 workers of Shift B and C on the outside in an attempt to make management see reason into their long-standing demands. Honda then dismissed 4 workers and suspended 8 others. The company summoned 5 workers along with Naresh Kumar and Rajpal for negotiations, and bouncers and Rajasthan Police attacked workers. Workers were severely injured in the attack while Joint Police forces of BJP ruled Haryana and Rajasthan tracked workers to their rented homes to hound them further. Tapukara area is currently under police control under a state of emergency.
The report further elaborates that workers can’t be traced. 44 workers have been sent to jail as no counsel on behalf of them could be present in the court. Apart from missing workers, 350 workers have been injured, 50 of them grievously.
The initial unrest stemmed from overworking. Chaos around Union formation led to termination of 500 contract workers along with Union President Naresh Kumar. It’s reported that Honda management called in 500 bouncers and equipped them with company uniforms so they could keep protesting workers mum. Workers from other industrial units in Gurgaon-Manesar region including Maruti Suzuki, Hero and Rico protested on February 19.
In a statement, a copy of which has been shared with Rushlane, the company reiterates, a majority, about 80 percent workers have already resumed work at the plant. They do confirm that remaining few workers haven’t yet returned to duty, and are continuing the illegal strike.
Honda Two Wheelers terms it a speculation that a contract worker was slapped, saying the statement is absolutely false, and completely misleading. The company has said no such incident has happened, and these baseless allegations and rumours are being used to incite plant workers.
Honda Two Wheelers has no role to play with the process Labour Union formation. Such a claim is untrue. Workers are pressuring management for reinstatement of the four terminated workers. Management has explained the matter in detail, having clarified that the termination is a result of indiscipline, and cannot be overlooked.
A group of workers has approached the Court against an alleged manipulation in the proposed Union formation process. The Court has put a stay on the matter, and has directed Rajasthan labour department to not register the Union till the court case is pending. Honda Two Wheelers opines ‘The issue of proposed Union is being politicised’, and has declined to comment any further as the matter is subjudice. The Union is already registered and recognized for Honda’s first plant at Manesar.