Monday, December 8, 2014

7 workers of ASTI Electronics on hunger strike for 14 days. Support their struggle to end the contract labour system

The 310 terminated contract workers including about 250 women workers of the ASTI electronics are protesting at the factory gate since 1st November 2014 for reinstatement. They were terminated after contract and permanent workers successfully united themselves and went on a strike and during the strike they successfully registered their trade union. The termination of contract workers was targeted to break the unity between contract and permanent workers and tame the union by effectively weakening it. The struggling contract workers have not received any wages since October 2014 and facing various kinds of threats, harassment and repression, but they are continuing their struggle and not ready to compromise.

Sit-in-protest at the factory gate is continuing since 3rd November 2014. The workers and the unions from various factories in the region are extending their support to ASTI workers struggle and regularly participating in demonstrations and gate meetings. The hostile attitude of the management compelled the workers to start an indefinite hunger strike. Seven workers started fast-unto-death since 25th November 2014. Only after the conditions of workers at hunger strike started deteriorating, the labour department came in to action and tripartite negotiations started.

First they offered a retrenchment compensation for two months but workers rejected and demanded reinstatement. Recently it was vaguely and verbally offered that the workers of PCB department may be reinstated, but workers demanded to make an agreement in writing and take back all workers and not of only one department. It also seems that the offers are part of a game to divide and rule. By threat of termination, the management had successfully compelled the permanent workers to not come in support of contract workers. Now the recent offer is targeted to create a divide between contract workers.

The workers are successfully fighting against such attempts of divide and rule. Lastly, the permanent workers dared to take the risk of losing job and openly came in support of the struggles of contract workers. However, with lengthening of the struggle the problems are increasing and the conditions of workers on hunger strike are getting serious. Out of seven on hunger strike, one male and one female worker- Sanju and Rashika were hospitalized after their conditions became serious. The conditions of other five workers on hunger strike including four female and one male workers- Swagatika, Bhavna, Rinku, Honey and Krishna -are also getting serious day by day. Therefore, it is urgently needed to mobilize the support for ASTI electronics workers struggle and compel the labour department and the management to take quick action and reinstate all contract workers as regular workers.

It is also worth highlighting that the ASTI workers struggle is not only important for ASTI workers, it is relevant for the whole labour movement in India. Following aspects of the movement reveal its general significance:

a)      Right from 2005 there is a wave of workers’ struggles against repression of workers when they attempted to form trade union and demanded right to collective bargaining. In all these struggles, in varying degrees the permanent and contract workers were united and in general and particularly in Maruti Suzuki workers struggle the demand for end of contract labour system was raised strongly. ASTI workers struggle is taking this struggle to culmination by demanding regularization of all contract workers. It is in this regards the victory of ASTI workers will be a victory of labour movement in India in its struggle to end the contract labour system

b)      Nowadays the conditions in factories are such that it is very difficult for the contract workers to organize themselves. ASTI workers struggle is one of such brave and successful attempts of organizing and leading a prolonged struggle for regularization of contract workers. The success of their struggle will be an inspiration for contract workers all over India

c)      In factory sector the number of women workers is increasing, but women are least represented in the leadership of the labour movement. Generally it is considered that the women workers do not easily come forward for struggles for rights. Women workers in ASTI dared to break this myth. ASTI workers struggle is one of struggles where women are taking the leadership of the movement. This has a larger relevance for the labour movement of India in general

The above relevance of the movement makes us duty bound to support and help the ASI workers struggle by all possible means. The demands of the workers are simple and justified under the law of the land: a) Termination of workers is illegal and therefore reinstate all workers, and b) In perennial nature of works contract workers cannot be engaged, therefore regularize all contract workers.

An appeal by ASTI Theka Mazdoor Sangharsh Samiti, Manesar, Gurgaon
3rd December 2014
We the contract workers of ASTI Electronics factory at IMT Manesar, Gurgaon are on Dharna from 3rd November and 7 of us continue fast-unto-death from 25th November with our just demands against contractualisation, illegal lay off, and exploitation.

We had a tripartite meeting with the management and labour department day before and yesterday 2nd December. The management of ASTI continued with their adamant anti-worker attitude, and spoke through the contractors in the meeting. The DLC (Deputy Labour Commissioner) of Gurgaon, J.C. Mann also spoke in the management’s language, and told us off that there is no work so we have been laid off. We did not buy their false arguments and said that most of us have been working in the factory for the last 4-5 years in perennial nature of work in the assembly line. We should rather be made permanent by law and the contract itself is a sham contract. There was no resolution in the tripartite meetings, and the DLC rather than giving us any concrete promise has now passed on the case to the ALC (Asst. Labour Commissioner) Gurgaon.

Anti-social elements instigated by the management have been continuing to harass us, to inform which, a team of workers also met the Police Commissioner Gurgaon yesterday, but no concrete steps have been taken by the police other than forming barricades from the management’s side in front of the factory.

The health of 5 women and 2 male workers on fast-unto-death from 25th November is deteriorating, and ketone body has been found in the blood samples. But the Gurgaon administration has not even sent a single doctor or any medical assistance to the dharna site till date. A team of workers from ASTI Theka Mazdoor Sangharsh Samiti also met the DC (Deputy Commissioner) Gurgaon to tell the administration to remind them of their responsibility but to no heed. We shall go to meet the DC Gurgaon again tomorrow 4th December at 11am and we appeal to pro-worker individuals and forces to come in solidarity in the meeting with the DC Gurgaon.

We are enthused to have received solidarity from workers in industrial belt. But at present, we are continuing with our struggle in the face of severe odds of anti-worker management-administration-police nexus. We are faced with a severe financial crisis which is becoming a hurdle in sustaining our struggle. We appeal to all pro-worker forces and individuals to come to our dharna site and also to contribute financially to our struggle.

Please send in your contributions to:
Raghuvendra Pratap
State Bank of India,
Sector 10A, Gurgaon Branch,
Account No. 34189662682
CIF No. 87673860011
Contact for further details: Shivani and Raghuvendra
 (ASTI Theka Mazdoor Sangharsh Samiti): 
09555671885; 9654553194, 9971735073

The Background of the struggle

ASTI Electronics India Ltd is a subsidiary of Asti Corp, Japan which produces wiring harness, switches, controllers, and other automotive and electronics parts. It supplies to auto companies like Suzuki Motorcycles, Maruti Suzuki, Yamaha Motors, Omron Automotive etc. It has branches in Japan, China, Vietnam and India. There are 150 permanent workers and 310 contract workers in its harnessing unit at Manesar, Gurgaon. There are two modes of production; one is manual and the other is automatic. Production takes place in three shifts. The manual section produces three thousand units per shift with 50 employees, of which only 17 are permanent. The Automatic section produces 12000 units per shift employing 25 workers, of which only 3 are permanent. There are two layers of production process used in this company; sub assembly line where each table is occupied by one worker and later the processed material goes on the conveyor belt assembly line. Most of the workers work as operators. Contract workers earn between 5000 and 7000 per month.

Wire harnessing process (assembling wires on a board) involves different stages that are completed in 3 shifts. Firstly wires are cut using a machine. Huge chances of accidents are involved in this process where there is a risk of cutting one’s finger. The wire is crimped i.e. the wires are squeezed from their ends manually using a crimping machine to obstruct air pockets, these air pockets cause corrosion of copper wire leading to damage of machinery. Terminals are later attached to the ends. All this takes place in the machine shop. 

The most tedious part of this process involves assembling of wires on a board. This process takes place on a conveyor belt. The workers work in lines and must produce harnesses according to designs provided to them. Interestingly here in Asti-Manesar, more women workers are employed for this tedious process. Numbers of women workers exceed the number of male workers in this final process. 

Both mentally and physically challenging, this final process takes place only during the daytime shift A from 7 to 3:20. Many of them are made to work overtime. The pressure of meeting targets has been increasing. Reducing toilet and tea breaks and increasing the speed of conveyor belt gradually on an hourly basis are some of the ways of increasing work pressure on the workers by the management. During the summertime, cases of workers fainting have been reported often. A pregnant woman had a miscarriage while working on the conveyor belt. (Anshita and Arya (2014).

One Night in Manesar..; http://sanhati.com/articles/11947/)

On 18th February 2014, contract and permanent workers formed their unity and went on one day strike for their demands. They successfully registered their trade union during the strike. They demanded for wage settlement and regularization of contract workers. The management had been on an offensive since then. While constantly plotting to further the division between the permanent and the contract workers. To harass the workers the speed of the assembling belt kept increasing after the union formation. On 1st November 2014, without any prior notice the management terminated all contract workers.

On 3rd November, all 310 terminated contract workers including 250 female workers started sit-in-protest at factory gate. On 13th November, workers from various factories held a rally in Manesar from Munjal Kiriu to ASTI factory gate against suspension of workers in Munjal Kiriu, and termination of contract workers in ASTI. On 17th Nov, workers of ASTI were joined by workers from other factories in a spirited rally in the Manesar industrial area. On 19th November a Joint demonstration of Munjal Kiriu workers (struggling for last two months) and ASTI Electronics workers was organized at ASTI factory gate. Workers and Union members from Maruti Suzuki, Hi-Lex, Endurance, Autofit and some other organizations like Workers Solidarity Centre Gurgaon & Inqlabi Mazdoor Kendra also participated.

On 25th of November, Seven ASTI workers including 5 women workers launched into an indefinite hunger strike, after two rounds of negotiations failed, where the company just offered them two months’ salary.

Most of the women workers are migrants from Nepal, Arunachal, Assam, Jharkhand, who live alone here in rented accommodations in nearby Aliar Gaon or Gurgaon or Dharuhera, on a meagre salary of around 6-7 thousand per month. At this point, they haven’t received their salary from October onwards and are bearing the expenses of travel, food, rent etc., without compromising their commitment to this struggle! Raj Kumari had tears in her eyes when we ate dinner last night. She said she can’t be eating, when her friends had been going without food for 4 days now. 

On asking her why she was doing this, she said that in a couple of years, say in one or two, she would be married off, and she really wants to remember that she had done something radical like this. Well, maybe she didn’t remember then that there are others amidst her, who have left behind their kids and husbands and are participating in the strike.
 (Anshita and Arya (2014). One Night in Manesar 

November 29 a demonstration was organized at ASTI gate. District administration deployed over 1000 policemen to stop the demonstration, however, huge participation of workers made the demonstration successful. Workers and unions from various factories including Maruti Suzuki, Endurance, Satyam Auto, Munjal Kiriu, Autofit, Rico auto, Baxter, and other organizations like CITU Gurgaon, Workers Solidarity Centre Gurgaon (WSC), Inqlabi Mazdoor Kendra (IMK), and Krantikari Naujawan Sabha (KNS) etc participated in the demonstration.

The solidarity is pouring in from workers and other unions in the industrial belt. Various independent unions from nearby factories have been coming in solidarity, contributing financially, carrying out collections at the factory gates to support the Asti workers. The gate of Endurance is being used as the charging station for the microphone and mobiles, the common kitchen is being run from contributions of this sort and a system of night vigil has been established, to ensure each other’s safety and well being. (Anshita and Arya (2014). One Night in Manesar..; http://sanhati.com/articles/11947/)

In the first week of December the workers won another victory in terms that defying all threats of losing jobs, the permanent workers openly came forward in support of contract workers struggle. Rather than going on strike, they continued working but did not eat for one day in solidarity of workers on hunger strike, and now they are working in the factory with black bands around their foreheads as a form of protest against the management


The conditions of workers on hunger strike is getting serious day by day and out of fear that the anger of workers in the whole region may burst any day, finally the labour department compelled the management for tripartite negotiation. A tripartite meeting was called today and was still going on at the time of writing of this draft.

Regards
Surendra Pratap
 Centre for Workers Education, NewDelhi


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