Maruti plants to resume work, tensions still running high

Maruti plants to resume work, tensions still running high

Mumbai/New Delhi: Work will resume on Saturday at the factories of India’s biggest car maker, but the prospect of labour trouble breaking out again in the near future remains strong.

Maruti Suzuki (India) Ltd needs to get its plants at Gurgaon and Manesar in Haryana running again at full throttle to take advantage of the traditional sales surge seen during the festival season currently under way, to help offset the slump that has afflicted the industry this year.

“We can go up to any extent if the remaining workers will not be taken back," said Sube Singh Yadav, president of the SPIL workers union.

The company will conduct an inquiry, but if this is “not in our favour, we will stop work again", Yadav said. “If we can strike work for our brothers in Maruti two times, for our workers we can do it again and again." Of the 33 staffers, 30 are from Maruti Suzuki’s Manesar plant and three from SPIL, Yadav among them.

“Decisions are taken considering the situations and time," said Sonu Gujjar, leader of the protesting workers at Maruti Suzuki’s Manesar plant. “At this point in time, calling off the strike is the best option. But we want the management to know that they should not take us for granted."

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Earlier on Friday, Maruti Suzuki said in a release that the strike at its Manesar plant was over, following a tripartite agreement among the company management, the Haryana government and workers. All the parties had reached an agreement at 4.30am on Friday.

A fresh protest then broke out at SPIL as Yadav was not a part of the talks. About 2,500 people work at SPIL, which supplies diesel engines and transmission systems to Maruti Suzuki.

“The management individually considered the cases of all employees against whom action had been taken," the company said. “It evaluated the severity of indiscipline in each case. Wherever the charges were not serious, the management has decided to take back the employees. The agreement provides that 64 employees will be taken back."

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One agreement won’t resolve the issue, said an expert with a consulting firm. “There are issues of casual labour and wage disparity," said Abhey Yograj, chairman and CEO of Technova India Pvt. Ltd. “I believe the root cause is labour reforms, but the government, neither at the state nor the Centre, wants to touch it as it is a holy cow."

Haryana needs to improve the way in which it handles industrial disputes, Yograj said. “The labour problem in the state looks systemic," he added.

Maruti Suzuki will complete the inquiry against its 30 suspended employees in 10 days. “Inquiry and disciplinary proceedings will be initiated against them as per rules," it said.

SPIL’s own inquiry of its three suspended workers will be completed in 45 days.

In what seems to be a victory for the Manesar workers, Maruti Suzuki agreed to allow a separate union there. However, three months ago, the state labour department had rejected the Manesar workers’ application for the registration of a new union. The current recognized union is dominated by workers of the Gurgaon plant, according to the Manesar workers.

“We have to apply for a fresh registration with the Haryana labour department," said Gujjar. “Till then, there will be a temporary committee with representation from workers that will look after the workers’ welfare."

The company has also decided to set up a separate labour welfare committee that will seek to improve ties between the management and workers.

Maruti Suzuki said workers will not be paid during the period—14 days—that they struck work, with another day’s wage docked as a penalty.

In response to the workers’ request for conveyance, the firm will arrange for transport services in line with shift timings.

The demand for a new union in Manesar triggered three rounds of strikes that started in June. The latest strike was the continuation of a 13-day protest in June and a 33-day lockout that ended on 1 October.

The second strike was a fallout of Maruti’s decision to prevent workers who hadn’t signed its “good conduct bond" from entering the plant.

The latest agreement is a victory for workers, said Satbir Singh, head of the Haryana unit of the Centre of Indian Trade Unions. “This is our day. The fight is long. We will continue to fight and the management should not think that we will sit in peace against any kind of atrocity," he said.

Maruti Suzuki has incurred a revenue loss of at least Rs2,000 crore since the labour trouble started in June. Sales fell 17% to 66,667 units in September from 81,060 a year earlier.