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Honda India workers face police violence in struggle for union rights

4 March, 2016Workers at the Honda Motorcycles and Scooters India plant at Tapukara are facing severe repression for demanding trade union rights and regular contracts for precarious workers.

More than 2,000 workers at the Honda plant in Tapukara in Rajasthan are protesting after a workplace assault triggered a sequence of events that resulted in arrests and police violence against workers.

Government authorities have denied permission to protest, and the workers are in search of a space to hold a peaceful demonstration to demand the release of jailed workers, the withdrawal of false charges and the right to form a union.

On 16 February 2016, a contract worker was attacked by his supervisor for refusing to work overtime. The contract worker refused as he had been working overtime continuously and was not well. Management denied this version of events in a statement to the media.

Protesting against the attack on their co-worker, Honda workers staged a sit-in protest demonstration inside the factory premises the same afternoon. Union office bearers called in for negotiation with the management did not return and workers could not contact them. By this time, another 1,000 workers reporting for B and C shift started gathering in front of the factory gates.

Management called the police who entered the factory and asked workers to vacate the premises, but workers demanded the return of their union colleagues. Police resorted to the use of what management calls “mild force” to drive them out of the factory, in the process injuring several workers.

Police detained and arrested hundreds of workers. While some have subsequently been released, 44 workers, including the union president Naresh Kumar Mehta, were in jail.

After the lower court denied bail for the arrested workers, the High Court of Rajasthan granted bail to all workers. Cases were also filed against many workers including union members. About 100 workers were suspended by the management on charges of sabotage.  Many workers received warning letters calling upon them to report to the duty or face consequences.

These developments are a consequence of workers’ initiatives to form a trade union. The company employs about 3,000 workers, out of which only 466 are permanent while the rest are precarious. Workers say management does not follow an established process of regularization of precarious workers: they have to undergo a complex process of written tests and interviews, and getting permanency depends enormously on the discretion of the management.

Similarly, the wage structure is designed to control workers. The intensification of work and granting of leave are also other major issues faced by workers.

In August 2015, workers formed a union - Honda Motorcycle and Scooter 2f Kamgar Union Tapukara - with the help of the All India Trade Union Congress (AITUC), and applied for formal registration. Regularization of precarious workers is one of the key demands of the union.

However, a court case has been filed against the union registration, and the union has not received the registration yet. Since then, four regular workers and about 800 contract workers have been terminated.

Workers are currently subjected to severe repression by the police. Police are searching workers’ houses on order to arrest them, terrorizing their families in the process.

In a major show of solidarity support by about fifty unions in the Gurgaon and Manesar region, on 19th February, Honda workers organized a protest in front of Honda head office in Gurgaon. Workers from Maruti-Suzuki, Rico and Honda’s Manesar plant also participated in the protest demonstration. Now they are not even allowed to organize their protest rally or demonstration by the police.

A 13 member committee, including union representatives from central trade unions, Honda Manesar plant and Maruti Suzuki, has been formed to take forward workers’ activities.

These are the major demands expressed by the workers at their recent demonstrations:

  1. Release all workers who are in Jail
  2. Withdraw all false cases against workers
  3. All suspended and dismissed workers should be reinstated.
  4. Conduct an impartial inquiry into the police attack on workers who were holding a peaceful protest on 16 February, and punish the guilty. All injured workers should be provided compensation.
  5. Workers should not be subject to victimization because of their involvement in union activities.