CHENNAI – An Indian court on Monday ordered authorities to inspect coronavirus-related safety protocols at the Renault-Nissan auto plant in Tamil Nadu, where workers are on strike over allegations that social distancing rules fail are not respected.
Workers at the southern Indian plant, jointly owned by Renault and its alliance partner Nissan, did not show up on Monday due to COVID-related security concerns, the workers’ union said.
Nissan, which owns a majority stake in the plant, has denied workers’ safety claims and told an Indian court it is following all guidelines. The company also said it will cooperate with the state government during the inspection and gradually reopen the plant.
“Nissan continues to place the safety and well-being of its employees at the heart of its operations,” a spokesperson said, adding that she would continue to add measures to protect employees and their families.
The Renault-Nissan plant has been closed since Wednesday.
The stalemate is a sign of the challenges businesses face in getting back to business when new infections in India increase. The state of Tamil Nadu is one of the most affected, with more than 30,000 new cases per day.
Hundreds of workers near the Chennai auto manufacturing center have fallen ill with COVID-19 and dozens have died, unions say.
Renault-Nissan, Ford and Hyundai halted work at their factories last week after workers protested and some went on strike.
Hyundai Motor has suspended one of its three teams at a factory near Chennai for three weeks due to the coronavirus, according to an internal employee memo seen by Reuters and two sources familiar with the matter.
A spokesperson confirmed that Hyundai will operate in two shifts from Monday, adding that it is “closely monitoring the pandemic situation in the state” and adhering to safety guidelines.
Renault-Nissan workers refused to return to work on Monday, saying in a letter to companies that their demands – including social distancing, rehabilitation of families of deceased workers and medical treatment of those affected by COVID-19 – had not been satisfied.
A bench of two judges ordered a senior government official responsible for industrial security to visit the factory on Tuesday for an inspection, while asking workers to resume their duties.
Distancing standards must be maintained without exception, the court said, ordering management and workers to come to an amicable solution.
The state government of Tamil Nadu on Saturday allowed automakers near Chennai to continue operating, but asked them to ensure compliance with social distancing protocols.
One of the judges noted that a factory inspected by the state’s industrial security departments had received a notice asking to “show the cause” of the alleged discrepancies with standard operating procedures.
A report from the industrial security director’s office on Wipro infrastructure engineering, viewed by Reuters, noted that social distancing was not being fully respected.
The report also said that disinfection facilities were not available in many parts of the plant and that there were no full-time doctors.
Reuters could not reach Wipro Infrastructure for comment.
Renault-Nissan said it reduced production at the Tamil Nadu plant, its only manufacturing base in India, to 7,129 cars in the 13 working days of May from a target of 18,852. In April, it manufactured 17,207 cars.
“They disrupt work, which will impact the business and lives of thousands of people, including the workers’ own dependents,” Renault-Nissan said in a May 31 filing.
The case will then be heard on Friday.