A Royal Enfield motorcycle. Picture: Royal Enfield

Workers protest as Royal Enfield transfers union members across India

18.02.2019

Workers at the Royal Enfield motorcycle factory in Oragadam, Chennai, India, took part in protest action after management undermined unionization efforts by transferring union office bearers and active members across India on 12 February.

The transfers are the continuation of a tactic by Royal Enfield management to undermine union demands, including the equal treatment and regularization of precarious workers, in the ongoing collective bargaining negotiation.

The transferred workers include the general secretary of the union, active union members and women workers of the Royal Enfield Employees Union, affiliated to Working People Trade Union Congress (WPTUC), an affiliate of IndustriALL Global Union.

The Royal Enfield Oragadam plant employs 5,559 workers, including 1,059 permanent workers, 2,000 contract workers, 1,000 trainees and 1,500 trainees employed through National Employability Enhancement Mission (NEEM). Most of the NEEM workers, who are paid only an apprentice rate, are also involved in production.

In the period from September to November 2018, Royal Enfield witnessed 50 days of determined workers’ protests, which concluded with an agreement to continue the discussion towards a collective bargaining agreement.

Subsequently, in January 2019, in violation of the spirit of the agreement, management transferred union office bearers to different locations within the Chennai region. Negotiations resulted in withdrawal of these transfers.

However, due to non-responsiveness and intransigence by management, negotiations did not progress, and the union issued a strike notice on 11 February 2019, calling for meaningful engagement.

In response, the next day Royal Enfield management once again transferred union office bearers and workers, this time to far off locations in the states of West Bengal, Rajasthan and Karnataka.

Demanding the withdrawal of transfers, workers started to protest immediately from 13 February. On returning to work, management insisted they sign an undertaking that they will not take strike action in future.

R. Sampath of WPTUC said,

“Management should stop unfair labour practices and victimizing workers for involving in trade union activities.  It should abide by the law and respect workers’ right to join union of their choice and equal rights to contract workers and resolve the dispute through meaningful negotiations.”

Georg Leutert, IndustriALL director for automotive and aerospace industries, said,

“The lack of decent work at Royal Enfield must be addressed immediately and vindictive actions must be withdrawn. Management should engage in collective bargaining negotiations in good faith to pave the way for industrial peace”.

Apoorva Kaiwar, IndustriALL South Asia regional secretary said,

“It is unacceptable that management is using arm-twisting and anti-union tactics to intimidate young workers. We will continue to support our affiliate WPTUC in this struggle to win decent work at the Royal Enfield Oragadam plant.”

Workers’ demands include:

  1. Employment of all workers who complete 480 days of work to be regularized
  2. Employees working more than a month must be provided with a bonus
  3. All transfer orders and vindictive actions should be revoked
  4. Meaningfully engage with collective bargaining agreement
  5. NEEM workers engaged in permanent work must be stopped.