New Delhi: Fearing for their lives and careers, the leaders of the Maruti Suzuki Workers Union (MSWU) at the Manesar facility have gone underground. Through most of the day, union general secretary Sarabjeet Singh’s phone remained switched off even as president Ram Mehar Singh mailed a signed statement this afternoon alleging that the Maruti management had unleashed bouncers who beat up workers.
It is interesting to note that though the violent clashes on Wednesday (18 July) may not have been triggered by impending wage negotiations, the workers under MSWU have been demanding a five-fold hike! Since a permanent worker takes home about Rs 18,000 a month (including perks), this would mean each worker has demanded close to Rs 90,000 every month in wages!
Maruti officials said that it was a normal practice for workers to inflate their wage demands and then negotiate with much lesser wages. But even then, a semi-literate shop floor worker drawing close to Rs 1 lakh every month is surprising.
Also, another question begs an answer: how did the workers, who were apparently working peacefully till the altercation began with a supervisor, suddenly turn into a blood-thirsty mob? Various versions of what happened yesterday abound but company officials alleged that perhaps the workers came prepared to unleash violence.
These officials alleged that when the altercation between the supervisor and one worker remained unresolved, workers rushed to executives’ cars parked outside and quickly extracted what is known as a side-impact beam from the doors of these cars. Though this beam is meant to lessen the impact of a collision in the car, workers – who themselves stand on the shopfloor assembling car doors and are quite familiar with car parts – used it to hit management executives on their heads.
Another version points to workers actually getting steel rods and lathis in tractor trollies inside the factory premises when the situation got ugly towards the evening. No one was able to explain how tractor trollies laden with lathis and rods could enter the factory without guards intervening.
Did the leaders of the previous union, which led a successful strike in three rounds last year, instigate the violence yesterday? Company officials said no outsider was involved and all the violence was unleashed by workers who were already inside the plant. But there is every possibility that national trade unions, affiliated to various political parties, would jump in and participate in this standoff between workers and management, just like last year.
Investor sources told Firstpost that some Mumbai-based equity analysts held a conference-call with the AITUC General Secretary DL Sachdeva on their concerns over labour trouble at Maruti. During this call, Sachdeva—who is not overtly connected with the present situation—said that the treatment of contract workers by Maruti was not fair. He apparently said that there were 3,000 contract workers at Manesar (against 2,000-and-odd permanent workers) who are being paid a third of the wages a permanent worker draws.
The contract workers are also liable to be fired at will and these twin issues have not allowed any peace to workers since the last strike. On their part, analysts expressed concern that no permanent solution has been found to Maruti’s labour troubles till date.
Also, by the evening today, there were unconfirmed rumours of two Japanese officials of Maruti having succumbed to their injuries sustained in yesterday’s violence (or being in a critical state) but the company denied this, saying they are injured and are being treated in hospital. An HR Manager, an Indian, has already succumbed to his injuries.
And contrary to earlier reports, widespread arson has meant that a large part of the Manesar assembly shopfloor is gutted. So even if relations between workers and management were to normalise shortly, repairing the assembly shopfloor could take a long time. Maruti manufactures its second best-selling model—the Swift—at Manesar and its festival season hopes could well be dashed unless production commences swiftly.