Trouble at Maruti Suzuki India Ltd’s Manesar plant seems to be never far-off. On Monday, there were signs of another round of labour unrest: The company insisted that workers at the manufacturing facility sign a good conduct bond that, among other things, bars workers from indulging in go-slow tactics, sabotage and intermittent stopping of work. Predictably, few are willing to sign on the dotted line.
To someone not familiar with the deteriorating industrial relations environment in the Gurgaon-Manesar belt, Maruti’s insistence on such a bond may sound draconian. It is not. The right to strike is not a constitutional right. It is also, incidentally, harmful for the prospects of any company and, in the end, the workers.
The issues, in any such dispute, are complicated. There have been allegations by workers that Maruti cuts wages in case they take more than four days of leave—even if they are eligible for it. For the firm, too, matters are not easy. Competition in India’s automobile sector is fierce. As in any other company that depends on products with a lifecycle (from innovation to the exhaustion of appeal on the part of potential buyers), rivals are closing in. To complicate matters, sales have been adversely affected by high interest rates, something being seen for the past year or so. It is natural for a company to be edgy in these circumstances.
This is not something that will disappear on its own. There are political party-affiliated trade unions that want to make inroads into this area, fishing in already muddy waters. Workers want more wages and a better lifestyle that many middle-class individuals already have in the Gurgaon region. There is nothing wrong in such aspirations. What is wrong are the empty dreams that are being peddled by motivated unions. As India witnesses greater competition in this sector, the drive to lower costs will only get more intense. This need not translate into lower wages —for skilled workers are always in demand—but there certainly will be no place for elements that disrupt production. In Maruti’s case, the firm has claimed that in just two days—24 and 25 August— there have been 21 “incidents”. If this is true, some amount of disciplining is called for.
This requires twofold action. At one level, political parties have to realize that disrupting industrial peace may fetch them a few more votes, but this can potentially lead to joblessness. At the same time, firms need better human relations strategies than they have now. It is important for them—and other responsible stakeholders—to educate workers about economic realities instead of egging them to a fruitless path.
Who is to be blamed for the Maruti mess: unions or the management? Tell us at firstname.lastname@example.org