Bellsonica Workers Protest In One Of The Largest Autoplants In Manesar, Haryana

Attempts to revoke the union’s registration, retrenchments and intimidation of workers should be seen within the larger context of global efforts to informalise organised sector workers.

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Bellsonica Employees’ Union held a protest followed by a press conference at Delhi’s Jantar Mantar on Saturday. They were protesting against the factory management’s targeted efforts to disband the union and cut down on permanent staff.

Bellsonica Auto Components Private Limited is a Gurgaon-based subsidiary to Bellsonica Corporation, a Japanese multinational company. It is a first-tier vendor for major companies like Maruti Suzuki in the auto sector and employs approximately 700 permanent workers and 1,600 contractual staff. 

The management has been steadily cutting down permanent staff and weakening the union since 2021. Over the past month alone, the management has issued four chargesheets, suspended thirteen permanent workers overall, three of whom are leaders in the union, and sacked three contractual workers who were seeking to unionise. The company also deployed a large number of police forces and bouncers within the factory to intimidate workers.

Chargesheets against Workers over “fake documents”

In July 2021, the management filed chargesheets against 22 workers accusing them of using forged documents to secure permanent jobs. The Bellsonica union responded with legal action and protests, submitting dozens of memos to the DC and management. In a press conference held on Saturday at Jantar Mantar, Union Secretary Ajit Singh claimed that they repeatedly asked the management to provide advertisements, official documents or verifications stating that an applicant must have certain qualifications for the job. The management themselves admitted that the company does not have any official policy criteria for education level, and during the recruitment process, they accept self-declarations from the applicants.

The 22 workers had served the company for over 10 years and produced lakhs of cars. Similar patterns can be seen in Maruti and Bajaj factories. Company management’s across Gurgaon have begun a uniform campaign of fabricating chargesheets against permanent workers as an excuse to retrench them. Singh claimed that the Japanese MD, who sits in the Bellsonica factory, himself stated that he had no other option but to cut down the permanent workforce. Since then, the pattern of issuing chargesheets to permanent workers has continued.

On March 1, 2023, the Union held a six-hour tools-down protest demanding that chargesheets be revoked.

Union Membership to Contractual Worker

Singh highlighted that contractual staff who supported the union or spoke on labour issues were coerced into voluntary retirement (VRS) in August 2021 when the union gave membership to a contractual worker who worked at the factory. They cited Article 19 of the constitution, as well as the Trade Union Act, 1926, which does not specify anywhere that contractual workers cannot unionise. However, the company management as well as the Trade Union Registrar of Haryana deemed this illegal and threatened the union with de-registration.

While the Registrar took issue with the fact that a contractual worker was given membership to a union of permanent staff, they did not take issue with the fact that contractual workers were being made to do work of a permanent nature. The union submitted an unfair labour practices complaint with the Labour Court pointing to this contradiction but no action was taken.

Due to this, the union had to temporarily cancel the membership of the contractual worker, who along with two other contractual workers, went to the High Court of Haryana to resolve the membership issue. The case is still pending in the court and the next hearing is 17 July 2023. However, the management sacked all three workers on April 7, 2023.

Press Conference
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Deployment Of Bouncers

Despite a letter from the Labour Department requesting both parties to maintain peace, the management suspended three union leaders — General Secretary Ajit Singh himself, President Mohinder Kapoor and Organising Secretary Sunil Kumar — on March 17. There has also been high police deployment at the union office, and bouncers carrying guns and lathis have been walking around on the shop floor and intimidating workers. The union complained about this to the Police Commissioner but no action was taken.

‘While workers dont even get proper food and water at the factory but the bouncers are given milk and other condiments every morning. This is the state of the factory that has a union, so one can only imagine the state of factories that don’t.’- Ajit Singh added.

In an effort to undermine the union and push for its de-registration, the management also referred to the union leaders as “Marxists” who extend support to other unions and Jawaharlal Nehru University students.

Push For Informalisation

Attempts to revoke the union’s registration, retrenchments and intimidation of workers should be seen within the larger context of global efforts to informalise organised sector workers.

The proposed Labour Codes, which seek to introduce fixed-term contracts and apprenticeships, and take away the provision to unionise also reflect this trend. The Haryana Government was quick to term the union’s actions “illegal” when it gave membership to a contractual worker, but they have taken no such action against the management for illegally deploying armed bouncers within the factory premises and suppressing worker dissent.  

As of today, there are 150 bouncers stationed at the factory in what can only be seen as an effort to escalate matters further. In his address at the press conference, Saroj Giri expressed fear that the management will use the bouncers to provoke conflict, similar to the Maruti workers’ struggle in 2012. He urged the crowd to take the struggle forward in a comprehensive manner while also connecting it to larger global struggles against capitalist forces.


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May 2024


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