Manesar’s ASTI workers: fighting back against India’s contract labour system

This post is from Surendra Pratap from the Centre for Workers Education, New Delhi (reprinted with Surendra’s kind permission). It concerns an important and ongoing campaign by workers at ASTI, a Japanese automotive and electronic parts manufacturer based in Manesar, an industrial town about 40 km southwest of Delhi. The report includes a call for solidarity and financial support. This campaign highlights the excesses of the ‘contract labour system’ that operates in this industrial zone, and many other similar zones across India. In the auto industry in this area, at least 70-75 of all workers in medium-to-large manufacturing firms are hired by labour contractors, who collude with management to keep wages low and deny collective bargaining and trade union rights. This commonly occurs in violation of labour laws, particularly the Contract Labour (Abolition and Regulation) Act 1970, which is supposed to outlaw the employment of contract workers as ongoing employees in ‘core’ business activities. This report is also significant because it highlights the growing role of women as industrial workers in north India as well as the problem of the main trade union federations in India, which often fail to represent the interests of contract workers and other precariously-employed or ‘informal’ workers. What follows is an edited version of a post that also appears on Surendra Pratap’s blog: http://workerscentre.wordpress.com/. The first part is an update on the campaign from 10 December. (Please note that, as of 10 Dec, the hunger strike referred to in the text had been called off, with further plans for mass protests in the area.) The second part is a report from 8 December that explains the issue in a bit more detail, followed by an appeal from the ‘ASTI Theka Mazdoor Sangharsh Samiti’ (ASTI Contract Workers Action Committee) and, finally, a bit of background on the ASTI company and its role in the Gurgaon/Manesar industrial zone.

Tom Barnes, 11 December, 2014

 

Update 10 December, 2014

Dear Friends and Comrades

On 9th December, all major factory union leaders in the regions including from Munjal Kiriu (who are themselves on strike since 24th September 2014), Maruti Suzuki Manesar, Maruti Suzuki Gurgaon, Suzuki Powertrain, Suzuki Motorcycles, Autofit Dharuhera, Endurance Manesar, Baxter Manesar and Hero Honda Manesar, were present during a meeting with the ALC (Additional Labour Commissioner) for Gurgaon on the issue of ASTI workers. But labour department officials said that the management was not ready to accept workers’ demands and so cannot do anything. On 10th December, a labour contractor working for ASTI slapped the permanent workers’ union leader (permanent worker) for wearing black bands in support of the contract workers’ struggle. Thereafter, all the major factory union leaders reached ASTI gate, held a meeting in solidarity and warned management to take action against this contractor and accept the workers’ demands.

All permanent workers went on strike, stopping work but remaining inside the factory (i.e., factory occupation).Thereafter, management held a meeting with union office bearers representing permanent workers. The meeting continued for 3-4 hours till late night. But management said that it was ready to take back only those who joined up to 2011, but not those who joined after 2011. In this way, the management was not ready to take back more than 260 workers (the huge majority of female workers). The contractor who slapped the union leader was compelled by the management to apologize to satisfy the union. The threat of losing their jobs probably worked and the permanent workers could not take any strong steps in support of contract workers and returned to work next day.

Meanwhile, the conditions of workers on hunger strike are becoming serious. Yesterday one female worker, Bhavana, was sent to the hospital when her condition became serious. Anger is also growing against the central trade unions for not taking strong action in support of contract workers. The union in ASTI is affiliated to Hind Mazdoor Sabha (HMS). HMS-affiliated unions are supporting the struggle and other unions are also extending their support but the protesting contract workers feel that lack of sound solidarity between contract and permanent workers is due to inaction by the HMS leadership. They hope the HMS central leadership will interfere and resolve this crisis.

The workers said that the solidarity of trade unions that was established in the Gurgaon region till 2011 was destroyed due to union rivalry and this is the main crisis of labour movement in Gurgaon. If all the unions affiliated with central trade unions like HMS, CITU and AITUC come together and extended their full support to the ASTI workers struggle, there is no force that could stop our victory. The workers also need solidarity support from ASTI workers union in Japan to compel the management to respect the workers’ rights in its India facility. Due to prolonged struggle they are also facing serious financial crisis and need broader support from all.

Please send your solidarity and support message to the ASTI contract workers forum at: singhraghaw5272@gmail.com, he is also cc to this mail. Send your financial support to the bank account provided in appeal below.

 

Report 8 Dec, 2014

5 Female and 2 Male workers in ASTI Electronics in India on hunger strike for last 14 days

Act to save their life and support their struggle to end the contract labour system

The 310 terminated contract workers, including about 250 women workers of ASTI electronics, have been protesting at their factory gate since 1st November 2014 for reinstatement. They were terminated after contract and permanent workers successfully united themselves and went on a strike. During the strike, they successfully registered their trade union. The termination of contract workers was targeted to break the unity between contract and permanent workers and tame the union. The struggling contract workers have not received any wages since October 2014 and facing various kinds of threats, harassment and repression, but they are continuing their struggle and are not ready to compromise.

The sit-in-protest at the factory gate has continued since 3rd November 2014. The workers and the unions from various factories in the region are extending their support to the ASTI workers struggle and regularly participating in demonstrations and gate meetings. The hostile attitude of the management compelled the workers to start an indefinite hunger strike. Seven workers started fast-unto-death since 25th November 2014.

Only after the conditions of workers on hunger strike started deteriorating, the labour department came in to take action and tripartite negotiations started. First, they offered retrenchment compensation for two months but workers rejected this and demanded reinstatement. Recently, it was vaguely and verbally offered that the workers of PCB department may be reinstated, but workers demanded to make an agreement in writing and take back all workers and not of only one department.

The recent offer is also targeted to create a divide between contract workers. The workers are successfully fighting against such attempts of divide and rule. Lastly, the permanent workers dared to take the risk of losing their jobs and openly came out in support of the contract workers. However, with lengthening of the struggle the problems are increasing and the conditions of workers on hunger strike are getting serious. Out of seven workers on hunger strike, one male (Sanju) and one female worker (Rashika) were hospitalized after their conditions became serious. The conditions of other five workers on hunger strike, including four female and one male worker (Swagatika, Bhavna, Rinku, Honey and Krishna) are also getting serious day by day. Therefore, it is urgently needed to mobilize the support for ASTI electronics workers struggle and compel the labour department and the management to take quick action and reinstate all contract workers as regular workers.

It is also worth highlighting that the ASTI workers struggle is not only important for ASTI workers, it is relevant for the whole labour movement in India. Following aspects of the movement reveal its general significance:

  1. Since 2005, there has been a wave of workers’ struggles against repression of workers when they attempted to form trade union and demanded rights to collective bargaining. In all these struggles, in varying degrees the permanent and contract workers were united, and particularly in the Maruti Suzuki workers’ struggle (2011-12) the demand for end of the contract labour system was raised strongly. ASTI workers struggle is taking this struggle to its culmination by demanding regularization of all contract workers. It is in this regards the victory of ASTI workers will be a victory of labour movement in India in its struggle to end the contract labour system
  2. Nowadays the conditions in factories are such that it is very difficult for the contract workers to organize themselves. ASTI workers struggle is one of such brave and successful attempts of organizing and leading a prolonged struggle for regularization of contract workers. The success of their struggle will be an inspiration for contract workers all over India
  3. In factory sector the number of women workers is increasing, but women are least represented in the leadership of the labour movement. Generally it is considered that the women workers do not easily come forward for struggles for rights. Women workers in ASTI dared to break this myth. ASTI workers struggle is one of struggles where women are taking the leadership of the movement. This has a larger relevance for the labour movement of India in general.

The above relevance of the movement makes us duty bound to support and help the ASI workers struggle by all possible means.

The demands of the workers are simple and justified under the law of the land: a) Termination of workers is illegal and therefore reinstate all workers, and b) Due to the perennial nature of work, contract workers cannot be engaged (under the law), therefore all contract workers should be regularised.

 

An appeal by ASTI Theka Mazdoor Sangharsh Samiti, Manesar, Gurgaon, 3rd December 2014

We the contract workers of ASTI Electronics factory at IMT Manesar, Gurgaon are on Dharna from 3rd November and seven of us continue fast-unto-death from 25th November with our just demands against contractualisation, illegal lay off, and exploitation.

We had a tripartite meeting with the management and labour department day before and yesterday 2nd December. The management of ASTI continued with their adamant anti-worker attitude, and spoke through the contractors in the meeting. The DLC (Deputy Labour Commissioner) of Gurgaon, J.C. Mann also spoke in the management’s language, and told us off that there is no work so we have been laid off. We did not buy their false arguments and said that most of us have been working in the factory for the last 4-5 years in perennial nature of work in the assembly line. We should rather be made permanent by law and the contract itself is a sham contract. There was no resolution in the tripartite meetings, and the DLC rather than giving us any concrete promise has now passed on the case to the ALC (Asst. Labour Commissioner) Gurgaon.

Anti-social elements instigated by the management have been continuing to harass us, to inform which, a team of workers also met the Police Commissioner Gurgaon yesterday, but no concrete steps have been taken by the police other than forming barricades from the management’s side in front of the factory.

The health of five women and two male workers on fast-unto-death from 25th November is deteriorating, and ketone body has been found in the blood samples. But the Gurgaon administration has not even sent a single doctor or any medical assistance to the dharna site till date. A team of workers from ASTI Theka Mazdoor Sangharsh Samiti also met the DC (Deputy Commissioner) Gurgaon to tell the administration to remind them of their responsibility but to no heed. We shall go to meet the DC Gurgaon again tomorrow 4th December at 11am and we appeal to pro-worker individuals and forces to come in solidarity in the meeting with the DC Gurgaon.

We are enthused to have received solidarity from workers in industrial belt. But at present, we are continuing with our struggle in the face of severe odds of anti-worker management-administration-police nexus. We are faced with a severe financial crisis which is becoming a hurdle in sustaining our struggle. We appeal to all pro-worker forces and individuals to come to our dharna site and also to contribute financially to our struggle.

Please send in your contributions to:

Raghuvendra Pratap
State Bank of India,
Sector 10A, Gurgaon Branch,
Account No. 34189662682
CIF No. 87673860011

Contact for further details: Shivani and Raghuvendra (ASTI Theka Mazdoor Sangharsh Samiti): 09555671885; 9654553194, 9971735073

 

The Background of the struggle

ASTI Electronics India Ltd is a subsidiary of Asti Corp, Japan which produces wiring harness, switches, controllers, and other automotive and electronics parts. It supplies to auto companies like Suzuki Motorcycles, Maruti Suzuki, Yamaha Motors, Omron Automotive etc. It has branches in Japan, China, Vietnam and India. There are 150 permanent workers and 310 contract workers in its harnessing unit at Manesar, Gurgaon. There are two modes of production; one is manual and the other is automatic. Production takes place in three shifts. The manual section produces three thousand units per shift with 50 employees, of which only 17 are permanent. The Automatic section produces 12000 units per shift employing 25 workers, of which only 3 are permanent. There are two layers of production process used in this company; sub assembly line where each table is occupied by one worker and later the processed material goes on the conveyor belt assembly line. Most of the workers work as operators. Contract workers earn ₹5000-7000 per month ($US81-113). To learn more about the role of female workers at ASTI, read this article, which also emphasises that most are migrants from poorer states and regions.

On 18th February 2014, contract and permanent workers formed their unity and went on one day strike for their demands. They successfully registered their trade union during the strike. They demanded for wage settlement and regularization of contract workers. The management had been on an offensive since then, while constantly plotting to further the division between the permanent and the contract workers. To harass the workers the speed of the assembling belt kept increasing after the union formation. On 1st November 2014, without any prior notice the management terminated all contract workers.

On 3rd November, all 310 terminated contract workers including 250 female workers started sit-in-protest at factory gate. On 13th November, workers from various factories held a rally in Manesar from Munjal Kiriu to ASTI factory gate against suspension of workers in Munjal Kiriu, and termination of contract workers in ASTI. On 17th Nov, workers of ASTI were joined by workers from other factories in a spirited rally in the Manesar industrial area. On 19th November a joint demonstration of Munjal Kiriu workers (struggling for last two months) and ASTI Electronics workers was organized at ASTI factory gate. Workers and union members from Maruti Suzuki, Hi-Lex, Endurance, Autofit and some other organizations like Workers Solidarity Centre Gurgaon & Inqlabi Mazdoor Kendra also participated.

On 25th of November, seven ASTI workers including five women workers launched into an indefinite hunger strike, after two rounds of negotiations failed, where the company just offered them two months’ salary. On 29th November, a demonstration was organized at ASTI gate. District administration deployed over 1000 policemen to stop the demonstration. However, huge participation of workers made the demonstration successful. Workers and unions from various factories including Maruti Suzuki, Endurance, Satyam Auto, Munjal Kiriu, Autofit, Rico auto, Baxter, and other organizations like CITU Gurgaon, Workers Solidarity Centre Gurgaon (WSC), Inqlabi Mazdoor Kendra (IMK), and Krantikari Naujawan Sabha (KNS) participated in the demonstration.

In the first week of December the workers won another victory in terms that defying all threats of losing jobs, the permanent workers openly came forward in support of contract workers struggle. Rather than going on strike, they continued working but did not eat for one day in solidarity of workers on hunger strike, and now they are working in the factory with black bands around their foreheads as a form of protest against the management. The conditions of workers on hunger strike is getting serious day by day and out of fear that the anger of workers in the whole region may burst any day, finally the labour department compelled the management for tripartite negotiation. A tripartite meeting was called today and was still going on at the time of writing of this draft.

Surendra Pratap

http://workerscentre.wordpress.com/

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