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Amid Workers’ Protests Over Covid-19 Risk, Carmakers Allowed To Operate In ‘India’s Detroit’

Amid Workers’ Protests Over Covid-19 Risk, Carmakers Allowed To Operate In ‘India’s Detroit’
Even as workers at factories of car makers in the Indian automobile hub of Chennai continued to protest over fears of them being infected by Covid-19 in a state of the country which has been hit specifically hard in the second wave of the pandemic, the local government there allowed the factories to keep operating.
With rising cases of fresh Covid-19 infections and deaths rising in the southern state Tamil Nadu, the government there extended a near-total lockdown to break the infection chain. According to official figures, the state is reporting more than 30,000 a day on the average.
But on Saturday, the government reiterated that the so-called continuous process industries, which also include the auto industry, could continue to function or operate but maintaining Covid-19 measures such as social distancing so that there is no infection among the workers.
The government also urged the auto companies to take immediate measures to vaccinate all the workers within a month.
Vaccination roll out has been sped up in recent days by the Tamil Nadu authorities and vaccination drives have been organized by companies including car makers.
Labour unions say that Covid-19 has infected hundreds of workers in and around Chennai, which is also known as India's Detroit, while dozens of workers have died of the illness.
Following protests by workers over unsafe working conditions, production had to be stopped this week in manufacturing factories run by Ford Motor Co and Hyundai Motor Co near Chennai.
Following threat from workers to boycott work at the factory of Renault-Nissan, the company was forced to shut down the manufacturing unit. The workers alleged that social distancing norms were not being followed. Three of its manufacturing units were closed by Eicher Motors-owned Royal Enfield over safety concerns.
They were continuing to talk with the companies, said union sources at Hyundai, Ford and Renault-Nissan.
"We're scared about working. The company is citing government orders and asking us to report for work. The government needs to think about the welfare of workers," a senior union leader at Hyundai reportedly told the media.
The local government of Tamil Nadu also allowed work to continue with 50 per cent worker capacity at a number of factories near Chennai that have export orders, such as construction and mining equipment maker Caterpillar Inc and Taiwan electronics manufacturer Foxconn.
They will prioritize worker safety and adherence to social-distancing protocols, global carmakers operating in Chennai have said.
“Health and safety of our societies, partners and employees is our topmost priority,” Biju Balendran, managing director at Renault-Nissan India, said in a statement earlier this week.

Christopher J. Mitchell

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