India poised to become world's third-biggest car market
FARIDABAD, IndiaJan 23, 2016 - 12:00 am GMT+3
Jan 23, 2016 12:00 am
In a dingy factory in the sprawling industrial hub of Manesar in northern India, a plastic moulding machine malfunctioned, mangling Visheshwar Prasad Singh's right hand as he made parts for a supplier to the country's major automakers. Singh was one of thousands of poor labourers, many temporary, who toil for 12 hours a day making auto parts for as little as $3-a-day to feed India's cheap car boom.
"I had no training to use the machine and was asked to operate it one day," said the 51-year-old, who made parts for Ranee Polymers, supplying to Honda Motor Co and Yamaha Motor Co. Doctors reattached his hand, but after 14 months and three operations it remains near-paralysed.
Car makers such as Maruti Suzuki India and Hyundai Motor see huge growth in India, set to become the world's third-largest auto market by 2020 as millions buy their first new car. Price tags can be as low as $3,000 for a new Tata Motors Nano mini-car. India is also becoming a low-cost export hub for global car makers such as General Motors and Ford Motor. Consultant McKinsey estimates India's auto parts sector will grow five-fold to about $200 billion by 2026, with exports rising to $80 billion from $11 billion.
As the sector expands, some of the work is sub-contracted out to small factories operating on paper-thin margins, where poor contract workers often have little or no access to safety equipment or health benefits, industry experts say.
"Undoubtedly, the workforce of suppliers, especially at the bottom of the chain, are paying for the growth in the auto industry," said Puneet Gupta, associate director at consultant IHS Automotive. But with more focus on quality and with India becoming an export hub working conditions would improve, he added. Car makers say they conduct audits at their main suppliers, but it is not possible to check all the smaller companies that may be outsourced work.
A report by non-profit organisations Agrasar and Safe in India on safeguarding workers in the auto hub of Gurgaon and Manesar, outside Delhi, said most accidents occurred due to lack
of training and safety inspections and poor machine maintenance.
The region - some 50 km (31 miles) south of the capital and home to top car maker Maruti Suzuki along with hundreds of small factories - employs 80,000 workers, but there are only about 35 to 40 inspectors in total to monitor all industries in the area.
Every year, more than 1,000 workers in the auto hub, most below 23 years of age, are injured seriously and lose their livelihoods, the report said.
"Factory owners train people for a day or two and get them to operate machines. It is all about meeting targets," said Prerit Rana, founder of Agrasar, that helps rehabilitate injured workers.
About the author
Research Associate at Center for Islam and Global Affairs (CIGA) at Istanbul Sabahattin Zaim University