While much of the rest of the world continues to reopen as COVID-19 cases decline dramatically, India is facing a massive surge of infections ravaging the country, with cases reaching into the millions. Ford recently donated five million surgical masks, 100,000 N95 masks, and 50,000 gowns to the country, along with $200,000 to support organizations providing essential COVID-19 relief. However, the automaker is facing a big dilemma as Ford Chennai Assembly Plant workers want it to shut down the plant until the surge passes, according to a report from Reuters.
The workers recently staged a protest at the Chennai Assembly Plant – which builds the Ford EcoSport and Ford Endeavour – demanding not only a shutdown but also paid leave and health benefits, along with 10 million rupees ($137,890 USD) in compensation for the family members of two workers who died after contracting the virus. So far, 230 employees at the plant have been diagnosed with COVID-19.
According to Reuters, Ford is currently in talks with the Chennai Ford Employees Union and is considering moving an already planned six-day shutdown for maintenance forward. Other automakers in the region, including Nissan, Renault, and Hyundai, have already stopped production at their Indian plants.
This surge is just the latest blow to Ford’s operations in India, which has long been an underperforming asset for the automaker. Last year, Ford was considering a joint venture with Indian automaker Mahindra & Mahindra in an effort to mitigate development and production costs, but it ultimately decided not to move forward with that plan late last year, and soon afterward, ended its relationship with Mahindra altogether.
As Ford Authority reported back in April, Steven Armstrong has been named Ford’s transformation officer for South America and India, and he will be tasked with coming up with a new investment plan for India. The surge in COVID-19 cases in Chennai figures to throw a proverbial wrench into the automaker’s short-term plans, especially as the plant – like many others across the globe – was also temporarily idled earlier this year as a result of the semiconductor chip shortage.
Update: Ford will shut down the Chennai plant on Friday, May 28th, and Saturday, May 29th, and will continue discussions with the union in regards to additional health and safety demands. “The safety of our workforce remains our topmost priority,” Ford said in a statement, also noting that the Chennai plant had previously been shut down from May 14th-May 22nd.