All car and motorcycle manufacturers in India were relieved when the Government allowed factories to resume operations after a two month long lockdown. Although coronavirus cases were still surging across the country, the factories had to resume operations on financial grounds. All manufacturers took all safety measures possible but mayhem has now struck the Bajaj Auto factory in western Maharastra after 250 employees were tested positive for coronavirus. The workers union at Bajaj Auto are now demanding a temporary shut down of the plant.
Thengade Bajirao, President of the Bajaj Auto Workers’ Union said, “People are scared to come to work. Some are still coming but some are taking leave,”. As of June 26, 140 employees out of roughly 8,000 staff were already tested positive for coronavirus at the factory and two had even died. In spite of that, the company did not shut down the factory as they wanted to learn to “live with the virus”. The company also issued a letter last week to its employees stating that those who did not show up for work would not be paid.
An official in Aurangabad district, overseeing the Waluj area where the plant is located, said the number of cases had now gone up to more than 250. “We requested the company to temporarily close the plant for 10-15 days to break the cycle but they said there is no point as people will continue to gather for social events outside of work,” the Bajaj union’s Bajirao said. Bajaj Auto is currently operating all their manufacturing facilities and all dealerships have also been opened across the country.
This Bajaj Auto plant at Waluj has an annual production capacity of 3.3 million motorbikes and other vehicles and accounts for more than 50% of Bajaj’s manufacturing volume in India. For every one employee that is tested positive for coronavirus here, four more who have been corking closely with him will have to be quarantined, thus affecting productivity. Although Bajaj has taken measures to ensure social distancing on the factory floor and in the cafeteria, and also arranged for separated seating in its buses and provided masks and sanitizers for staff, the employees say its not enough.
As stated earlier, in a letter, Bajaj said to its employees, “If an employee remains absent at office or plant due to any reason despite being asked by the company … then his/her salary would be deducted 100% during the period.” One worker who was in hospital after testing positive for COVID-19 said,”On the assembly line, multiple people touch the same engine. We were wearing gloves but still caught the virus.”