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India: Report on labour rights violations in BYD Electronics (P) Ltd, in Tamil Nadu

15 November 2010

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Building a nightmare:

Reports of labour rights violation and repression in BYD Electronics India (P) Ltd (BYD Co), Oragadam, Sriperumbadur Taluk, Kancheepuram Dist, TN.

Brief background

On 21st October 2010, 4000 workers of BYD Co (Build Your Dreams) went on strike. They were demanding 8 hours work shift, permanent employment, better amenities and right to associate. The same day BYD management and officials from State Labour Department assured the striking workers that their demands will be negotiated. Based on which, workers resumed work from 22nd Oct. But in the following days, management did not make any effort to deliver on their promises, instead they abused and tortured a worker named Prem, whom they accused of organising the strike and also of trying to unionise. Unable to take the humiliation, threat and abuse of the management, Prem tried to commit suicide on October 28 by consuming two bottles of Iso Propyl Alcohol, which is a solvent used in the factory. Meanwhile another contract worker was also arbitrarily targeted and sacked by the management.

Agitated workers resumed their strike on 28th Oct and continued stay-in-strike till 30th October and later were forced to shift the strike outside the factory gates by the police at the behest of the management. Meanwhile on 1st Nov’2010, the management had put up a notice on the factory gates, suspending 437 workers and calling the strike illegal. The notice states that the factory is a SEZ and a Public Utility Facility under the SEZ Act and therefore under section 22 of Industrial Disputes Act, the ongoing strike by the workers is declared illegal. The notice further stated that during this lockout period, workers will be treated in no work no pay mode.

Company operations

BYD Co is a Chinese company and has a plant in the Oragadam SEZ in Kanchipuram District, which supplies finished mobile covers to Nokia SEZ. It has total workforce of 4000 workers, out of which 800 are company employees/trainee (not permanent) and 3200 contract workers. 50% of the workers are women. Many of the workers are from distant places, some as far as from Krishnagiri and Kanyakumari district, while quite a few are from around Chennai. Most of the workers come through 1-2 key labour contractors-S2S and Upshort. The BYD work force appeared to be very young with age group ranging from 18-25 years.

Plastic and metal mobile covers (A & B covers) are manufactured and assembled in the factory. For plastic covers, plastic pellets are imported and then extruded and moulded into mobile covers. The number of mobile covers manufactured and assembled is dependent on the model number and demand from Nokia. Typically in a shift of 12 hours, 5 lakh covers are assembled. For instance, depending on the model, per hour 2 boxes, each containing 380 pieces (total 760 pieces) are assembled in an assembly line of 13 workers. There can be as many as 16 assembly lines depending on the model being assembled.

A small team of women trade unionists from CITU state women’s working committee and two independent women activists/researchers visited the striking workers at the factory gate on 1st November 2010. The team found the following oppressive work environment and violations as stated by the workers:

Working condition

  • The working hours are 12 hours in 2 shifts, 8am-8pm and 8pm-8am
  • While the work shifts are 12 hours, the workers have to come to the factory much earlier before their shift starts and leave much later after their shift ends. Workers noted that on an average they get only 4-6 hours of sleep a day, with 12 hours of work and 2-4 hours of travel to work. Some claiming not to see even the sun for days due to long working hours inside the factory.
  • Workers get 30 minutes lunch break and 10 mins tea break (3 times) a day. The quality of food and beverages provided is of poor quality. For instance, one time there was a lizard in the food, but instead of replacing the food, the workers were asked to eat it after the lizard was taken out.
  • Workers are not given off even on national holidays or festivals. And when there is prodction demand, the workers are not even given the mandatory 4 days off a month, which happens quite often. They are arbitrarily given off for a few days after weeks of work without any break. The workers are promised Over Time (OT) wages which are not paid as per the OT norm.
  • Inadequate facilities-bathroom/restrooms: each dept (there are 5 depts) has 400 workers, there are 4 bathrooms for women and 4 for men. One of the restroom for women is not functioning in assembly section.
  • In the assembly section, which mostly has women workers, its especially difficult since they are not allowed for a moment to leave their work spot unless someone else replaces them. So if they have to go to the restroom they cannot do so unless they are replaced by another worker.
  • The workers complained about too much chlorine in drinking water.
  • Workers are not even told what their daily wages are despite repeated request. If workers take off over weekend, their wages are cut by Rs 400-500.
  • If the workers are late by even by 5-10 mins, their wages are cut. In one instance, two weeks back, a female worker named Rupa was late by 30 minutes and the management refused to let her inside the factory. She was feeling unwell and wanted to sit in the medical room, but she was even denied that. Finally she went and sat with the security guards at the gate for the whole night till 6 am. There was no way that the female worker could have walked in the dark to the nearest bus stop which is 4 kms away.
  • In another instance, a female worker named A Poovizh wanted to take off for her sister’s death ceremony, which was refused her and instead was told by the management to postpone the death ceremony and finish work.
  • Regularly the workers get their hand injured on the machines and some have lost their fingers. Also women workers complained of heat blisters due to handling of hot mobile covers as they are taken out of the machines manually. Workers are given only one glove for
    10 days which gets spoilt in 2-3 days. Workers then handle the hot mobile cover with bare hands and in the process get blisters. Injured workers are taken to private hospitals for treatment and the matter gets closed. No one is taken to ESI hospital for treatment or compensation.
    Sexual harassment/gender issues
  • Despite 50% female workers in the factory, all the supervisors are males.
  • Derogatory statements and abusive languages are used to rebuke the workers.
  • For women workers during mensturation time are not even allowed to take rest for few minutes or even 5 minutes extra time in restrooms. And if they take a few minutes extra in the restrooms, they are rebuked in abusive language.
  • When the workers went on a stay-in strike for 3 days from 28-30th Oct, supervisor one Mr Thiyagu stated in tamil “moonu naal velai niruthathil ulle irunthirukeenga, moonu maasathile vaanthi edukaporenga” (you have been in strike for 3 days inside you will be vomiting in 3 months) insinuating that the women workers have been spending time with the male workers in the strike which will result in pregnancy.
  • The supervisors Thiyagu, Ponnaararsu, P Manager, Nityanmadam GM, Vinujayaselam, Production Manager have threatened the women workers and have accused them of sitting with men and behaving indecently which will be reported to their parents. Infact some of the women workers said that management/contractor representatives have approached their parents.
  • The factory is located in a remote area and if the workers have to leave on any emergency or miss the factory bus they have to walk in isolated path for 4 kms and sometimes in the dark.
    Labour rights violation
  • The labour contractors have taken advance deposits of Rs 25,000 to 1 lakh for wokers promising permanent jobs.
  • Company employs mainly contract workers who were promised permanent employment after 6 months. No one has been made permanent and even the 800 employed workers are trainees.
  • Even though the workers are contributing to the ESI and PF, they have not been given ESI cards.
  • Repressive tactic by management to dissuade any form of association. For instance, Prem was verbally abused and kept in isolation for hours for his attempt to organise workers, which traumatised him to the point that he attempted suicide by drinking 2 bottles of Iso Propyl alcohol.