The unions in Gurgaon’s industrial belt look set to challenge what they say is a blatantly unjust reaction by Maruti Suzuki to last month’s violence at their plant in Manesar.
Turning the plant into a virtual military zone with round the clock police and personal security personnel will only harm the industrial peace of the region, claim union leaders, who are deeply disappointed at the management’s high handed approach in dealing with the crisis. They insist that the management’s decision to unilaterally sack 500-odd workers flies in the face of labour laws in the country and will not go unchallenged.
Far from demoralizing the work force in the industrial town, Maruti management’s response to the labour unrest seems to have strengthened their resolve to protect the rights of the workers. The management’s decision to sack 500-odd employees without an independent inquiry has angered workers and mobilized unions in the region to take up their cause. They claims that they want to ensure that due of process of law is followed and interests of workers protected.
Backing them are a joint committee of 22 unions in Manesar and the Trade Union Council (TUC), which comprises 16 committee members of unions in the Gurgoan-Manesar industrial belt.
“The local administration, the management and industrial associations are trying to give a negative picture about unions. They don’t want to go into the root cause of the crisis. Why did such an incident happen? There is something more to it than suspension of a worker. And the enquiry should find the reason so that it is not repeated,” says Harjeet S Grover, general secretary of the Manesar-based Honda Motor Cycle and Scooter India Employees Union.
“Maruti Suzuki has a history. The Gurgaon plant too has seen labour unrest in the past…What is threatening the industrial peace? Every time employees try to make a union, which is their legal right, the management creates problems. They begin to victimize employees, false cases are brought against them. And this threatens the industrial peace,” he said.
Kuldip Singh, president of the employees union of Sona Koyo Steering in Gurgaon, believes the crux of Maruti Suzuki labour problems is inequitable wages. A problem made worse, he says, by the management’s inability to build a relationship of trust with its workers.
“As far as Suzuki is concerned, they want work to be done as it is done in Japan. And workers here are fully willing to work that way. Shouldn’t they then be treated on par with workers in Japan? I understand that the management is Indian. But a company whose turnover runs into thousands of crores is paying wages of Rs 6000 and Rs 8000. This is the main reason for the conflict,” Singh said.
“What is the labour department doing? What is the Indian government doing? They say labour unrest this will send a bad message? But what about the fact that the people are dying of hunger, is that a good message?” he said.
The TUC held a meeting on Friday to decide on issues of legal assistance for those arrested, on conciliation through the labour department on reinstating workers who have been sacked and of contract workers whose future remains uncertain.
Asked what the council’s priorities were, Grover said, “Innocent workers should be released from jail. The management has terminated the service of 546 workers and what about the 2,000 contract workers who worked at the plant? This matter is not resolved yet.”
“If the government or the management thinks they can run a factory this way, it is not going to be easy. Until workers are found guilty, they have to be reinstated. We will approach the labour department. We will go in for conciliation. If they don’t negotiate, the unions will take all steps,” he said.
The elaborate security cover for the plant has left a bad taste. Union members calling it an over-reaction.
“What kind of productivity can you expect under such circumstances? You are making villains of people who form the base of a country’s economic growth. If the farmers, labourers are content, have a home, a good education for their children, his productivity will be high. But he is disturbed, what will happen to his productivity? If you destroy the base, you cannot run a country,” Singh says.
The unions have, however, welcomed Maruti Suzuki’s decision to end contract labour. Cautiously optimistic about its implementation, the general response seems to be one of we’ll-believe-it-when-it-happens.
“If they will do it, it is a good thing. Violations of the Contract Labour Act are rampant. As per the Factory Act, contract labour cannot be employed to do permanent nature of work. But it’s happening everywhere. I don’t think Maruti will able to do it at an individual level. But if they do, others will definitely follow,” says Grover.
While Maruti has played a pioneering role in development of the Gurgoan-Manesar industrial belt, the spate of labour problems seems to have eroded the iconic status that Maruti workers once enjoyed.
“There was a time when a Maruti worker inspired respect. At the local market people would sell him goods on credit, no questions asked, simply because he was a Maruti employee. But today, his morale is so low, it is unimaginable. He feels no pride in wearing his uniform anymore,” claims Grover.
But given Maruti’s economic clout, it continues enjoy enormous influence in the industry. “A company like Maruti is a role model. What it does, others follow. Hundreds of companies are dependent on it. Maruti should introduce a system of wages that will set the standard. It should set an example,” says Singh.