Despite temporary shutdown, most labourers are living on a prayer that the lockdown would not be extended
The large migrant workforce employed in hundreds of automotive units across Gurugram-Dharuhera-Bhiwadi industrial belt is in a dilemma, whether to return home or stay back after the three Original Equipment Manufacturers – Maruti Suzuki, Hero Motocorp, and Honda Motorcycles & Scooter India Pvt. Ltd (HMSI) – announced a temporary halt of 10-15 days amid a surge in COVID-19 cases and multiple lockdowns across the cities. However, the overwhelming sentiment seems to be to “wait and watch”.
“Lots of my friends working in automotive units and staying within a radius of around 200-250 km have decided to go to their homes during the shutdown. But those from far-off areas such as Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, said they would continue to stay in Gurugram during the shutdown. It is not viable to go back and then return in a week’s time. Also, they are hopeful that the shutdown will not prolong and production will resume,” said Sompal Vats, working at Sunbeam Lightweighting Solutions Pvt Ltd in Gurugram’s Narsingpur. From Haryana’s Panipat, Vats has been working at the automotive company for more than 15 years and is now settled in Gurugram.
The company, a vendor of Maruti Suzuki and Hero Motocorp, might run during the shutdown as well. “The company also exports auto parts. So it may continue to run despite both OEMs being shut,” said Mr. Vats.
His colleague, Gopi Chand, a resident of neighbouring Palwal, said the situation arising out of the infection was “very scary” and most of the workers wanted their companies to shut down for 10-15 days. “More than 30 workers in our company are infected. Most of the workers commute by autorickshaws and buses and are at the risk of contracting the infection. They are scared for their lives. But they need to come for work if the company is running,” said Mr. Chand.
“Workers won’t mind a few days shutdown, even if they are not paid for it. Jan hai to jhaan hai [While there’s life there’s hope]. But they cannot afford a long break from work without salary,” he quipped.
Former Maruti Udyog Kamgaar Union general secretary and workers’ leader Kuldeep Jhangu said the Maruti Suzuki company had advanced its annual maintenance activity during the shutdown and all employees would be paid during this period.
“Since all employees will be paid for the nine-day shutdown, there is no reason for them to go back to their hometowns. The workers have also been directed not to leave the station. The contractual workers might be tempted to go back to their homes in case the shutdown is further increased,” said Mr. Jhangu.
Many automotive companies have advised their workers not to leave the station during the shutdown.
“We have advised the workers not to travel in the present situation as it is not safe. Since the shutdown is only for nine days, we hope they do not leave for their homes. Even if a fraction of the workforce decides to go, it won’t impact the production much,” said a senior Human Resource official at an automobile company in Manesar, unwilling to be named.
He added that the possibility of national lockdown was bleak this time and they had tried to convey this to the workers.