Chennai / Mumbai: An almost three-week-long strike at Hyundai Motors India Ltd’s Sriperumbudur factory ended on Thursday after management and employees reached a settlement, but workers at Mahindra and Mahindra Ltd’s Nashik plant pressed ahead with a “tool down” action that the auto maker insists is illegal.
The Hyundai workers called off the strike, which began on 20 April, on Thursday evening. Workers suspended by the management would be recalled as part of the settlement, although the strikers would not be paid for the days they had boycotted work, said T.M. Kumar, a spokesman for the Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU) in Chennai, which backed the strike.
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The work boycott, which led to a fall of 4-5% in daily production at the plant according to a Hyundai spokesman, was called off on the fourth day of a hunger strike by some workers of the plant who had gathered at the Commission of Labour Office in Chennai.
Hyundai spokesman Rajiv Mitra confirmed a settlement had been reached. According to Mitra, only 150 workers had been on strike. He said the company, which had earlier suspended 75 workers, will be recalling 20 of them.
The twin strikes in the auto industry are a sign of the fear of job losses among workers amid the economic downturn, one expert said.
“Even when the workforce is not cut there’s always an underlying fear that there could be a policy change which may lead to cutdown on the workforce,” said Praveen Sinha, adviser to the New Delhi-based German Foundation, which plays a role in settling labour issues at German firms. “I don’t think the worst is over.”
The Hyundai India strikers said they had been denied the right to organize a union. The Hyundai Motor India Employees’ Union was formed in 2007 and has around 1,150 members, but so far, the management of Hyundai India has not acknowledged its existence, they said.
A workers’ committee that has been set up by Hyundai India functions as a puppet of the management, said A. Sounderrajan, president of CITU’s Tamil Nadu chapter. He said the plant has 1,700 permanent employees and 4,500 casual, contract, trainee and apprentice workers.
“This is all nonsense,” said Mitra, speaking before the strike was called off. “We have a workers committee, which has seven members and every two years they are elected by the workers.” Hyundai India may look at shifting the production of 70,000-80,000 i20 cars to Europe in the next two quarters if the labour unrest continues, he said.
In Nashik, Maharashtra, meanwhile, there was no sign of an end to the work boycott. Mahindra and Mahindra (M&M) produces the Scorpio, Bolero, Xylo and Logan models at the facility and employs close to 3,500 people. M&M said the workers had resorted to an illegal strike from 5 May in response to a disciplinary action initiated against an officebearer of the Employee’s Union for alleged indiscipline. It said the strike was not connected with a wage settlement.
“The management stands committed to the highest standards of corporate conduct and will not compromise on matters relating to discipline. We are working towards resolving this impasse amicably and are hopeful this illegal strike will be called off,” it said in a statement on Thursday.
Rajesh Jejurikar, chief of operations, automotive sector, M&M, said the company took disciplinary action against the union president, who then initiated the work stoppage. The newly elected union president has been suspended pending an enquiry,
“We don’t see any direct disagreement between the workers and the management... It’s an individual who is using his personal ego, which is impacting the livelihood of workers. Since it’s an illegal strike, workmen are not getting paid,” he said.
The strike will not have an impact in terms of revenue loss in the near term because the company has sufficient inventory to see it through for a month.
Graphic by Ahmed Raza Khan / Mint