Operations at Renault plant affected as some staff stay off work amid COVID fears

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Chennai, May 31 (PTI) Japanese auto major Nissan on Monday said the reopening of its alliance manufacturing plant with Renault in Chennai will be done in a phased and gradual manner while assuring full cooperation to the court ordered inspection of the unit by state government slated for Tuesday.

The Madras High Court on Monday directed the Tamil Nadu government to depute a senior official to Renault Nissan Automotive India Pvt Ltd (RNAIPL) plant near here to ascertain whether COVID-19 protocols were followed in full.

'Nissan welcomes the Hon'ble Court's decision and the positive outcome of the joint inspection of our plant with RNITS earlier today; we look forward to cooperating with the State Government of Tamil Nadu during the inspection planned for tomorrow,' a Nissan spokesperson said in a statement.

The court gave the direction while passing further interim orders on a public interest writ petition from the workers union, Renault Nissan India Thozhilalar Sangam (RNITS) of the unit on Monday.

The PIL challenged an order dated May 8 of the State Revenue and Disaster Management permitting the company to start work at the factory subject to certain protocol conditions.

Operations at the RNAIPL factory here were partly affected on Monday with a section of employees not reporting for duty in the wake of the ongoing second wave of the pandemic, according to union sources.

The company had suspended operations at the plant for five days from May 26 amid demand from workers to temporarily stop production in view of the surge in COVID-19 cases in Tamil Nadu even as the state government extended the lockdown for another week starting May 24 with more stringent measures.

The Nissan spokesperson further said, 'We were glad to welcome 3,000 employees today to restart production of aftersales and export parts machining, and to finalise preparations for the reopening, which will be done in a phased and gradual manner.' The spokesperson asserted that the company 'continues to hold the safety and well-being of employees at the heart of our operations, and will keep adding extra measures to ensure a safe environment that extends beyond our employees to include their families and the community, as we closely and strictly monitor developments'.

Earlier in the day, a union source said, 'Today, many of us, out of the 8,000 employees here at the plant, including contract labourers, are staying away from work. Only the office bearers of the Renault Nissan India Thozhilalar Sangam (Employees Union) have come to discuss with the management on further course of action.' Last week, in a letter to the employees, RNAIPL Managing Director and CEO Biju Balendran had said the COVID-19 situation in and around Chennai remained extremely serious and 'therefore, to ensure we maintain the focus on the safety of our employees and their families and as a precaution, the decision has been taken to suspend plant operations temporarily from May 26 to May 30.' The factory located about 45 km from here was operating in two shifts and workers were not willing to work in the wake of the pandemic.

According to a member who asked not to be identified, the union had suggested to the management to operate the facility with limited manpower instead of asking all the employees to work at the factory.

The workers are cautious and are unwilling to carry on duties as was done in pre-COVID situation, the source said. PTI VIJ RKL MR MR

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