On Tuesday, Ajit Singh (name change), a permanent employee of Maruti Suzuki (MSIL) Manesar, finally returned to his favourite workshop where he had worked for more than ten years. But to his dismay he realized that a lot had changed in the 50 days that the factory was closed because of the national blockade.
Although he met his colleagues a few weeks later, Singh couldn’t greet them with a warm hug, the usual chit-chat disappeared and they weren’t able to go out for a smoke break like before. Whereas they used to sit at a table with four to six people, now there are only two workers on each table and a plastic partition in the middle to create physical distance.
With the opening of the two Maruty factories in Manesare on Tuesday, Singh and his colleagues are struggling to adapt to the many new rules introduced by the car manufacturer to ensure the health and safety of Covid-19 workers.
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The most obvious victim of the new regime is the friendly coexistence of employees. During the lunch break they went into the food stalls, exchanged jokes and had fun. Today, lunch is served in packs – second helpers arrive in small packs, and the workers eat while keeping their distance from each other. Outside the factory another breathtaking sight awaits.
Dozens of new Maruti Suzuki vehicles – DZire, WagonR, Ertiga – are on their way. The vehicles and employees of the factory can be monitored during parking, test drives and vehicle inspections. Some guards equipped with loudspeakers constantly remind us of the standards of social distance and make announcements about permits to leave the street.
Officials from APL Logistics, a subsidiary of the Japanese freight forwarding company that manages the supply chain for MSIL trainsets, are working to complete the delivery of hundreds of new units which, despite billing, were lost due to a sudden shutdown on 24 January. Walk to the factory. Some 2,800 such units are waiting to be shipped to places like Bengaluru, Hyderabad and Calcutta. The sudden rush to steer them has severely limited their possibilities, especially since there are still some limitations today.
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The factory in Maruti Manesar has a stock of more than 20,000 finished vehicles. The APL plans to load 650 wagons on freight trains from Baval to Haryana on Tuesday. And while the machines are getting ready to leave the factory, the workers are getting used to the new reality. Naveen Kumar, vice-president of the trade union Maruti Suzuki, said a number of changes have been made to maintain the state government’s strict guidelines on social distance. Now most things, from the tea machine to the water dispenser, have to be accessible with a foot-operated floor lever.
All places where hand contact was once inevitable have been redesigned and replaced by sensors or a button that can only be operated on foot. It is difficult to get used to this new environment, but it is necessary, he said.
In addition, the floors of the factory are divided into mini zones, with two-metre-high partitions to separate the workers. Many of them have been instructed to stay within the marked areas that determine the extent of their permitted journey.
On Tuesday, only a handful of workers started decorating 15 to 20 units of Dzire and Ertiga, which had remained unfinished on the assembly line. In the period leading up to the closure, thousands of cars left the factory every day.
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Of the approximately 6,000 employees of MSIL’s car service, only 600 who live nearby have been brought here. They were transported by a fleet of buses – 10 workers – and carried out two series of temperature checks, once in a bus and then at the entrance to the factory. Workers should also wear face protection, masks and gloves as soon as they walk through the door.
In order to monitor the health of its employees, MSIL made use of its own application, which originated after the government application of Aarogya Setu. All data, including workers’ health data collected over the past 14 days, are regularly uploaded into the application for rapid assessment and follow-up.
Manesar Powertrain, a division of Maruti Suzuki Powertrain India, which produces internal combustion engines for Maruti’s best-selling models such as WagonR, Swift, Baleno and others, has met around 500 employees today. The main objective was to ensure that the high-tech plant was ready for maintenance work and that the workers had become accustomed to the new safety standards. The factory’s production activities have also started.
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According to some sources, management has so far decided to complete the work, which was suddenly stopped when the blockade was announced. Some dozens of K12 engines, which are widely used in mid-range hatchback engines such as the Swift, DZire, Baleno and Ignis, were idle on the production line. We’re working on it today, said a senior Powertrain division manager.