Militant unionist blames management for Maruti violence

New Delhi: A soft spoken, bespectacled man sits in sweltering heat in a small, sparsely furnished Lajpat Nagar office of what is known as the National Trade Union Initiative (NTUI).

At first glance, Gautam Mody does not appear to be a militant advocate of trade unions and workers' rights. But his passion for trade unionism is hard to miss through lengthy arguments on what really happened at the Maruti Suzuki's Manesar facility on 18 July.

Reuters

Mody is wary of the media. So he dismisses Firstpost's plea for providing access to workers who were at the Manesar plant on that fateful day. He answers a lot of probing questions on that day's developments with a terse "no comment" and went on to allege that the entire sequence of violence was orchestrated by the company management.

"There is no evidence that workers killed HR Manager Awanish Kumar Dev,we want a fair and transparent probe into the incident," he says matter-of-factly.

He also claims that workers want the indefinite lockout at Manesar to be lifted and the CCTV footage at the plant to be made public. The CCTV footage is key evidence in piecing together events of that fateful day.

Mody goes on to allege that the company's management has failed to uphold the dignity of workers, ensure their safety or even control the intensity or pace of work at the factory. The allegations continue but not once does one hear him accepting that workers could have been incited by outside elements or that this was pre-meditated attack.

NTUI has been the most vocal supporter of Maruti workers since the violence broke out last Wednesday but Mody does not see why the media believes that his organisation would have any political affiliations. He also shrugs away questions on how the trade union movement espoused by NTUI is funded, merely saying there is no corpus for such work and funds come from worker contributions.

The version of the workers is that on the 18th, a Dalit worker was abused with a casteist remark by his supervisor and when he protested, he was dismissed. When the Maruti Suzuki Workers Union (MSWU) began to negotiate his reinstatement, the management called in "goons" into the conference room at the plant and evicted the union members. They had been told earlier that this particular supervisor had proceeded on a two-day leave and any reinstatement would be considered only after he returned to work.

So how do the workers, who have all fled their homes and are untraceable, plan to break the present deadlock? A statement released a day after the violence by the MSWU sought talks with the management. An unfazed Mody says the company has no option but to lift the lockout, begin talks with workers and punish the guilty. He also issues a veiled threat that unless the management bends, it would become difficult for it to hire new people to begin production at Manesar.

On the issue of predominance of contract labour at both the Manesar and Gurgaon plants, Mody again alleges that the company had violated the provisions of a law on contract workers. "The Contract Labour Abolition and Regulation Act of 1971 clearly states that contract labour cannot be employed for perennial tasks (meaning daily tasks). If it is true that Maruti plans to phase out contract labour by March 2013, I would say its a lesson well learned by the company".

Some other interesting facts also emerge: Mody says the toilets and the canteen are at least "half a km" from the shopfloors in Manesar. "When the company provides two 7.5 minute tea and loo breaks in an 8-hour shift, workers stuff food down their throats while running towards the loo, let Suzuki show how it treats its own workers in Japan if they think this is normal".

Mody's comments come on the eve of a mass rally which is being organised jointly by all national trade unions having a presence in the Gurgaon-Manesar belt and those which are specific to the auto industry facilities in the area. He asserts that tomorrow's rally will offer immense support to workers who have gone into hiding, fearing retribution from the state and the company.

But how do Maruti and its workers get back mutual trust? There are, obviously, no easy answers here.