“We want our jobs,” was one voice that echoed across Ford India’s workforce at the Maraimalainagar facility that shuts all operations at the end of this month.
His employees have been protesting here for the last 10 days asking for their jobs to be kept or a better settlement package. Many workers have actually left their homes and have chosen to stay in the factory for a week now. Women were also part of the protest and what happened was a story of hopelessness and despair.
About three weeks ago, Ford had requested written assurances from employees that they would not protest inside the facility and continue to work until operations came to a complete halt and the plant closed.
The workers, however, did not sign this agreement and have been on strike ever since. They buy food from outside with their own money and through the Trade Unions. Those who had previously protested on the shop floor had now come out to continue this near the factory gates. As a result, production stopped.
According to most employees, the company is looking for a way to break the deadlock. “They also closed the toilets inside the facility,” lamented one worker who preferred not to be named. Some want to register themselves like Karthik, for example, who has worked in the factory for 12 years.
He emphasized that the severance package offered was so small that it would be difficult to survive when he became unemployed in the coming weeks. “We have home loans, our children go to school and our families depend on our income. It will be very difficult for all of us to get jobs elsewhere,” he lamented
Balaji, who also joined Karthik in 2010, added that the ideal scenario would be to have another company take over the operations. “All we want is our work,” he said matter-of-factly.
A female employee who was part of the protest echoed Balaji’s sentiments. According to him, there are about 70 women at the facility (out of a total workforce of more than 2,000) and the average age is nearly 30 years. “We started our working life here and if we had to leave it would be difficult to get another job. profession. It is very difficult for women when it comes to working in the auto industry,” she said.
There is a lot of hope in the air that a miracle might actually happen and the show will continue. The harsh reality is that most of these women plan their future based on their tenure at Ford India. “We come from small towns and villages, stay in nearby hostels and go to work. Most of us are the first graduates in our families and we hope for a bright future. Today, our dreams were completely shattered,” he choked.
The fact that another Ford facility in Sanand, Gujarat, has found a buyer at Taya Motors is tantamount to rubbing salt on wounds for Chennai’s workforce. From their point of view, this is a heritage factory that marked the beginning of Ford’s journey in India. While the employees in Gujarat, though smaller in number, are getting help, those here in Maraimalainagar have been left in the cold.
Lakshmi Narayanan from the department committee, Ford Union said this. “The factory in Sanand started because the one here in Chennai is making a profit. While we’re a part of this effort, the workers at Sanand are getting their jobs secured and we’ve been left behind.”
Obviously, the feeling that the Gujarat government goes the extra mile to support the workforce in Sanand while the same level of persistence is not seen in Tamil Nadu. Employees at Maraimalainagar hope the state government will provide support but so far there is no sign of this happening.
There was also a lot of anger raised against Ford. “The company has used the term restructuring. What if they sent us out with resettlement and rehired workers? They can also revive operations with JVs or sell factories to other buyers who will hire new workers,” lamented one of them.
It is irrelevant that Ford has announced that it has also ruled out the PLI Center’s proposal to manufacture electric vehicles in India for worldwide supply. Until it’s in the air, there is hope that Maraimalainagar may have a chance to be rebooted for this practice. Ford, however, explained with a PLI burial that his India story was over.
Not many people bought the story. “Ford made a commitment that they would not come back and said the finish was the best they could do. However, the PLI scheme was approved by the company and we learned about it from the media,” said another worker.
The underlying message is that all trust built over the years has been lost. “We are very sad to hear about their departure, but news like PLI only means they are not transparent with us,” he continued. It is this fact that leads them to believe that the company may still be planning a new Indian business model but without the current workforce.
Shiva, who is part of the protesting workforce, hopes the company will “sit down and talk”. He is categorical about not accepting any settlement. “That is not a solution especially when we have worked for so many people here and given our sweat and blood for this facility. I joined many years ago as soon as I finished my diploma. Many of us have worked 2-3 shifts and even overtime for the benefit of the company. And that’s how they treat us,” he lamented.
As he said, it’s not just the 2,000-plus workers whose livelihoods are at stake, but also their families as well as additional suppliers. “The closure of this factory will impact around 40,000 families. Several suppliers have also announced that they are closing their operations. The Tamil Nadu government must take the right steps,” Shiva said.
This will not be easy by any stretch of the imagination even as previous reports suggest that Hyundai and Ola Electric are open to the idea of acquiring the Maraimalainagar facility. What’s also a cruel coincidence is that General Motors faced a similar problem at Talegaon near Pune where the original suitor, Great Wall Motors, couldn’t have waited forever to gain a foothold here.
By all indications, both Ford and GM will close their plants at the end of June and that could be the start of more trouble for the Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu governments if violence breaks out. In these difficult times when jobs are impossible to come by, fear of unemployment and being pushed against the wall will only lead to meaningless anger. How the two state governments manage this issue remains to be seen.
Ford Chennai workers protest as anger mounts
Ford Chennai workers protest as anger mounts