The Madras High court has directed the Tamil Nadu state government and the management of Renault-Nissan (India) Private Ltd. to respond to a petition filed by the workers of the Renault-Nissan factory challenging lockdown exemptions for automobile industries.
A bench led by Chief Justice Sanjib Bannerjee and Justice Senthilkumar Ramamoorthy said that although the state government had allowed certain companies to operate, it was up to the company to decide on the interest of their employees and not force the factory to remain open. It then adjourned the hearing to May 17.
This comes after workers union of Renault-Nissan (Renault Nissan India Thozhilar Sangam) approached the Madras High Court to challenge a government order allowing automobile industries to be exempted from the two week-lockdown to curtail the spread of COVID-19, by citing them as âcontinuous process industryâ.
The petition states that the factory was not prioritising the safety of its workers, who were being made to work in violation of COVID-19 safety protocols and with no social distancing. The petition also states that 185 factory workers and staff are COVID-19 positive, out of which 40 of them are hospitalised and 145 of them are in home isolation presently. Two workers who were COVID-19 positive had also died.
Risky working conditions
âApart from 3500 permanent workers, there are 2500 staff members, 3000 contract labourers and 700 apprentices. There are 120 buses operating per shift to bring the workers to the factory and back. There are eight dining halls in the factory with a total seating capacity of 500 each. Till now there is no social distancing being followed in the canteen or transport facility,â the petition read. It also adds that the temperature levels in the plant were high due to the summer, further adding to the workersâ discomfort.
The petition also pointed out that in 2020, the factory was completely locked down from March 23 to May 18 and adds that ânow the situation is far more serious requiring stricter restrictionsâ.
No safeguards by State
The petition also states that the workers were not covered by the Employee State Insurance Scheme. âAfter the union demanded, the management (Renault-Nissan) has given a Rs 1 lakh health cover for COVID treatment only for the employees and not for their family members,â the petition reads. The company also does not cover non-medical expenses such as masks and PPE kits which can cost Rs 2500 per day, the petition adds.
No factory inspector has so far inspected the working conditions in the manufacturing unit in light of the pandemic, the petition adds.
Prior to the lockdown, an order by the Tamil Nadu government issued on May 8 allowed the continuous process to remain operational during the lockdown. âStaff/workers of the above industries shall be permitted to travel in the vehicles organised by the above industries or in their own vehicles by carrying their ID cards/permission letters issued by the respective organisationsâ.
Automobile not an essential commodity
Continuous process industries include âautomobile manufacturing units that have larger foundries paint shops..â and âexport units and their vendor units providing inputs to such industriesâ. The petition also argued that the classification of automobile industries as continuous use and its subsequent exemption was âirrationalâ and violated the objective of the lockdown.
âThe workers of the automobile manufacturing unit are also entitled to be shielded from the threat of infection and automobiles are not essential commodities that the automobile workers should be exposed to the risk of infection,â the petition states. Further, the petition also points out that neither the state nor Nissan-Renault is compensating for the risk of exposure they are putting their workers through, by âany sufficient safeguard to the workers or their family membersâ