‘1,216 workmen of Renault Nissan tested positive for virus, 6 died’

Number of workers reduced post lockdown, govt. tells HC

The Directorate of Industrial Safety and Health (DISH) on Friday told the Madras High Court that 1,216 workmen of the Renault Nissan automobile manufacturing facility at Oragadam had tested positive for COVID-19 so far, with 50 active cases as of June 1.

The court was also informed that six workmen had died since May 2020 due to the disease.

Apprising Chief Justice Sanjib Banerjee and Justice Senthilkumar Ramamoorthy of the situation, Advocate General R. Shunmugasundaram said 7,607 workers were employed at the factory prior to the lockdown on April 2, 2021. But the number had gone down, and only 5,153 were employed as of May 25. He said the number of cars manufactured had come down from 750 a day in April to 414 now.

The submissions were made during the hearing of a case filed by the workmen, through their counsel Maithreyi Canthaswamy Sharma, challenging the State government’s decision to exempt the automobile industry from the lockdown. The workmen complained that the management failed to honour an agreement reached between them on June 1 with respect to the implementation of the COVID-19 protocol.

Senior counsel V. Prakash said the workmen returned to duty following the sentiments expressed by the court during the last hearing of the case on Monday, and entered into an agreement with the management in the presence of the Joint Director of Industrial Safety and Health. The prime aspect of the agreement was to maintain 3:1 empty pitch ratio in the trim and chassis and body shop so that sufficient physical distance could be maintained.

However, the agreement was not implemented with respect to one of the two assembly lines where Nissan Sunny cars were assembled, the senior counsel told the court. On the other hand, advocate Sanjay Mohan, representing the management, said the company would hold further discussions with the workmen on this aspect on June 7 and get back to the court on June 8.

The counsel also stated that the company was in the process of implementing other suggestions made by the Joint Director.

The Bench wrote: “Given the high incidence of infection, the workmen cannot be immediately faulted for being apprehensive. In any event, the exemption granted during the lockdown requires the COVID-19 protocol to be maintained… The issues flagged by the Directorate of Industrial Safety have to be taken care of. It is hoped that the workmen and the management forge a more lasting settlement when they meet on June 7.”

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