Rizwan ((name changed) looks down while walking with a sullen face and an uncertain future. He has been working at the Ford India car factory near Chennai for the past 10 years and is 50 years old. With two children and a wife to support, Rizwan is worried as to where he will find a job now.
There are more than 2,000 workers like Rizwan who are on the rolls of Ford India Ltd and another 10 to 15,000 workers who work indirectly for the global auto major for the past 10 or 15 years.
The sudden closure announcement has come as a bolt from the blue for these employees whose representatives held talks with the management on Monday seeking an assurance that their jobs will be protected even if the management changes hands.
But it is business as usual outside the factory with buses standing in queue to enter the factory premises with workers wearing blue shirts with Ford logo. Some workers peep outside as the bus enters the factory premises after seeing media standing, and others are sitting with their eyes closed thinking of the dark future.
“No work has been happening inside the factory since the closure announcement after we came back two days ago. Our senior officials have asked us to take it easy till the management comes out with an announcement,” said Rizwan.
Malaimalar Nagar shot into the national limelight when the All India Congress (I) Committee session was held in 1988 and the late Rajiv Gandhi (prime minister then) participated in the meeting. He took a train to the location after landing at Chennai airport.
After this, the villages in the area came alive once again with the setting up of the Ford car factory. “Since the factory started to work, several shops, hotels, restaurants and houses. Many workers stay in and around 5kms by taking houses on rent. If the car factory closes, the livelihood of thousands of people in around 10kms will be affected,” said R Ramasamy, a tea shop owner opposite the factory.
Within the factory, Monday saw the first meeting of workers and Chennai factory management. The meeting went on for more than 3 hours, and the workers’ main demand was an assurance from the management that thousands of employees’ jobs must be protected in the first place even if the management changes hands.
“We did not discuss any other issue with the management. Our single demand is that there must be no job loss even if the factory is taken over by some other company. We have news about Tata Motors as well as other automobile companies that have shown interest in taking over the factory. Thus if some other company takes over the factory, our jobs must be protected,” said a trade union member who participated in the talks.
For employees like Rizwan, another big problem is the loans the workers have taken. “In the last 20 years or so, our company treated us well, and our salaries were good. Many of us have got loans to construct a house, or for our daughter’s marriage. Now we are not sure whether we will be asked to pay the remaining money at one go,” said M Kavitha * (name changed).
The unions want the Tamil Nadu government to interfere and stop the factory from closing. Chief Minister M K Stalin is expected to hold a meeting with officials regarding the issue.