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02 Oct 2016

PUDR has long held that the right to form a Trade Union and engage in collective bargaining is a fundamental right under Article 19(1)c of the Indian Constitution- Freedom to form a union or  association. This right is necessary if workers are to have any chance to get their grievances -regarding terms of employment, service conditions etc- redressed, or protection against demands of management to work more for less, under duress and threat of dismissal  if they contest  the Management’s diktat. When workers attempt to organize, exercising their justiceable Right to form a Union, they face opposition from Management. The ongoing  workers’ struggle at Honda Motorcycle and Scooters India Ltd’s  Tapukhera Plant in Rajasthan shows  exactly how fundamental rights of workers can be violated with impunity by the Company  in nexus with government and police, with an under-staffed and overworked Labour Department as a useless by-stander.

Honda Company is the largest producer of two wheelers in India. It has one Plant in Gurgaon, and a newer one in Tapukhera,  on Rajasthan -Haryana border. Rajasthan, it may be recalled, became the first state in 2014 to tweak its laws related to workers rights and has been particularly severe on workers for daring to organize against  the Management. Both locals and migrants from interior Rajasthan and Haryana, as well as UP and Bihar work at the Tapukhera plant. The Company provides no accommodation to the workers. According to the Honda officials, contract workers are paid Rs. 10,000-15,000 per month, company casuals Rs. 12,500-17,500, trainees  Rs. 14,500-20,000, and permanent workersearn  about Rs. 23,000 a month. Overtime rate for permanent workers is Rs. 65 and for contract workers, Rs. 45 per hour. Honda workmen, however, claim that their salaries are drastically cut even if they take a few days’ leave in a month or are late for work. Basic pay for permanent workers is Rs. 6,500 and for contract workers Rs. 4700.

Without a Union the workers found they couldn’t resist the Management’s pressure to work more, with less breaks, with severe wage cuts being imposed under the slightest pretext like arriving late or being absent, resulting in substantial salary loss.  In May 2015 HMSI workers, both Permanent and Contractual, employed in the Tapukhera  Plant since 2008,  decided to form a Union- Honda Motorcyle and Scooter 2F Kamgar Union, and began the process to get it registered.  Management responded by targeting workers active in this process, so as to dissuade them from forming a Union.  From 6 August, 2015 when their application for Registration of  Union was submitted to Labour Department, harassment increased. Some workers were made to do overtime on two consecutive days; warnings were issued to others to keep off Union activities or else face termination. In November, four workers’ representatives were dismissed.  On 14 December, the Union submitted a Collective Charter of Demands to the Management. Four botched tripartite meetings at Alwar Labour Deptt office followed, with the Management boycotting these despite notices from the Labour Office. Matters came to a head on 16 Feb., 2016 when a contract worker on Shift A was thrashed for refusing to do overtime. Incensed by this, workers in the shift struck work .While talks were going on between Management and five worker representatives, they called in bouncers and asked Police to enter. When workers refused to move out of the Plant until their leaders returned from the meeting, the Police and  bouncers attacked them, causing injuries to scores of workers. More than 200 workers were arrested. Four Permanent Workers who were Union representatives were particularly targeted and tortured in police custody. The same day 467 permanent and 3000 Contract workers were dismissed. Some returned to work after RSS run Bhartiya Mazdoor Sangh struck a compromise, and formed a pro Management Union. At present 200 Permanent and 2500 Contract workers stand dismissed.

Meanwhile 44 workers have been charged under IPC Sects 147, 148 (rioting); 307 (attempt to murder), 332 (causing hurt to prevent public servant from duty), 336 (endangering life & safety), 427(mischief causing damage over Rs.50). Another 42 workers have cases filed under IPC Sec. 147, 149(unlawful assembly & common object), 323 (voluntarily causing hurt), 342(wrongful confinement), 395(dacoity), 427, 452 (trespass). Although 44 of them got bail from Jaipur High Court the conditions attached for bail: two gurantors (jamanatis) and a bond of Rs 1lakh, shows the cruel joke played by the Judiciary. Forty two other workers await hearing on their plea to get anticipatory bail.

Since February both Rajasthan and Haryana governments have tried their level best to  prevent workers from holding any protests  in Jaipur, Tapukhera, Alwar, Rewari, Gurgaon, Bhiwadi. Faced with false cases, dismissal and constant harassment, and an  indifferent Labour Dept, workers have been on indefinite hunger strike from 19 September  at Jantar Mantar in New Delhi.  How far the Management’s is willing  to go to throttle workers’ freedom of expression is evident from the suspension of  a permanent worker on 24 September for liking a FB post about the hunger strike! Workers have been warned both through Notices and word of mouth against expressing any support for the more than 2500 striking Tapukhera workers, or criticising the Company’s anti-worker policy.  In solidarity with the striking workers

PUDR demands immediate withdrawal of all cases, reinstatement of all workers , recognition of  their  independent Union.

 Deepika Tandon, Moushumi Basu

Secretaries, PUDR