Now, I did the ITI course and landed in Gurgaon to work. But I had no idea it would be such back-breaking non-stop work for eight hours. The salary didn’t justify it either. But here I was, this was life, I began to accept it.
After a year of so-called apprenticeship at Gurgaon they gave me a job at the Manesar plant, started just a few months ago. The rules were the same. I wake up at 4.30 a.m., the bus arrives to pick us up at 5.20 a.m., reach the factory at 6.30 a.m. The factory is about 25-30 km from where most workers live in Gurgaon. The shift begins at 7 a.m.
Some months ago they changed the shift timing to 6.30 a.m., so we have to wake up even earlier. This was because some workers come from Delhi too, and they have to beat the early morning traffic between Delhi and Gurgaon. The transport isn’t free, they deduct Rs. 500 a month from our salary. The lunch and tea are subsidised—around Rs. 350 is deducted from our salaries. Tea breaks are in the rest area next to where we work on the shopfloor, but lunch, which is on our time, is in the canteen. Some workers have to walk quite a distance to the canteen, so 30 minutes isn’t enough to grab lunch or go to the bathroom. One worker being late can stop the entire conveyor belt, so that worker gets a lot of flak from the managers.
So now we wake up at 3.45 a.m. and the shift begins at 6 a.m.. Only technically, though. They start the morning meeting and the warm-up exercises 15 minutes before, from what is our time, not included in their eight hours. The point of the morning meeting is to take names and count who made what mistakes, who left a loose part, who missed a part in the conveyor belt, causing a delay of how many seconds in the production line. The day begins with humiliation. You did this! You did that! I want your explanation in writing. If this happens again we’ll give you a warning letter. And today we want these many cars done, no excuses shall be entertained. Then the exercises begin on the shop-floor, the conveyor belt is soon switched on.
While I had to install parts, some are also in checking and repair. First, the metal sheets are converted into the car body by machines, which is assembled by workers in the weld shop. Then it goes to the paint shop, where the process is semi-mechanised. In the Assembly, the parts are fitted together, beginning with the wiring and meshing, then the brakes and pedals and the steering and so on. The car comes to the worker on the conveyor belt and depending on what your job is to add to it, it stops for 35-40 seconds on an average. So if a worker’s task is to add a brake and pedal, then that’s what you do all day, with 8-10 bolts in every car, car after car, 40 seconds per car. The result is a bit like a dance move, the same move, non-stop for eight hours. The screw gun in one hand, fix it, run back, pick up another bolt, move back to the car. A bit like aerobics.
The Manesar plant, I am sure, is the world’s fastest car production facility. The conveyor belt doesn’t really stop, we move with it and rush back to the original position in time for the next car. We don’t control the machine, the machine controls us. We dance to its tune. The result is that you could miss a car or two if you dared to drink water or scratch your back. Such things must be done by us along with fitting the parts.
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