Workers’ stir spreads to Suzuki’s other units

Workers’ stir spreads to Suzuki’s other units

New Delhi: Labour unrest in the Gurgaon-Manesar belt took a fresh turn for the worse, with workers at all Suzuki Motor Corp. subsidiaries—except Maruti Suzuki India Ltd’s main plant—striking work since Wednesday afternoon.

The Gurgaon factory, which is the company’s main car-making unit, is likely to join the protest on Thursday. According to the head of the Gurgaon plant union, a final decision will be taken after a meeting with top company management scheduled for Thursday morning.

In total, there are around 7,000 workers at Suzuki’s subsidiaries such as Maruti Suzuki, Suzuki Motorcycles India Pvt. Ltd (SMIPL), Suzuki Powertrain India Pvt. Ltd and Suzuki Castings India Pvt. Ltd.

The move is a setback to the company, which is facing a challenge from rival auto manufacturers, particularly in the small car segment—which accounts for 70% of the passenger car market.

The strike at the engine and casting plant will dent the production capacity of Maruti and extend the waiting period for its vehicles, experts said.

“All of us have come together in support of our striking colleagues at Maruti Suzuki’s Manesar plant," said Anil Kumar, president of Suzuki Motorcycle India Workers Union. “Our demands are very reasonable. There are people working for Suzuki’s subsidiaries for six-seven years on a contract basis and they have not been made permanent. All of us aspire for a better life, but Suzuki management is just not ready to listen. We will not join work until all our demands are met."

SMIPL manufactures at least 1,200 two-wheelers per day. The workers went on strike in the afternoon, thus producing only 600 units on Wednesday.

SMIPL vice-president (sales and marketing) Atul Gupta did not respond to phone calls on Wednesday evening.

Suzuki workers have submitted a list of 76 demands to their respective managements on issues such as higher pay, improved working conditions, reduced work load and the inclusion of dependants in medical programmes.

“These are very basic demands. The company earns so much every month, all because of our efforts," said Sube Singh Yadav, president of Suzuki Powertrain India Employees Union.

Yadav said workers from Suzuki Castings, which is a part of Suzuki Powertrain India and affiliated to the Suzuki Powertrain India Employees Union, have also joined the strike.

He said workers from these three plants are asking for an early settlement to the stand-off between Maruti management and staffers at the Manesar plant that has severely affected production since 29 August.

Mint could not reach officials from Suzuki Powertrain for comment.

Kumar of the Suzuki Motorcycles union said a meeting was held with the workers at the Gurgaon plant in the evening to persuade them to strike work. Maruti’s Gurgaon plant, which functioned normally on Wednesday, has a union recognized by the management.

“Yes, we have had a meeting with them. We are meeting the top management tomorrow morning (Thursday), after that we will decide whether to strike work or not," said Kuldeep Janghu, president of the Gurgaon plant’s labour union.

People familiar with the development said that the action was triggered by Maruti’s decision to stick to its stand of hiring fresh workers in place of those on strike.

A Maruti spokesperson said, “These are pressure-building tactics. But the company management will not enter into any dialogue with striking workers."

On Tuesday, Maruti sacked five more workers at its Manesar plant on disciplinary grounds and recruited 100 new ones to replace the existing employees who have refused to sign a so-called good-conduct bond.

In the first two days of the stand-off that began on 29 August, Maruti had dismissed five permanent workers. So far, the company has sacked 10 workers. It has also suspended 26 permanent workers and discontinued the services of another 18 trainees on disciplinary grounds.

Production at the Manesar factory of Maruti was hit last month after the company said it would only allow workers who had signed the conduct bond to work, citing indiscipline and sabotage by employees over the previous two months, following a strike in June.

The bond required the workers to declare that they would “not resort to go slow, intermittent stoppage of work, stay-in-strike, work-to-rule, sabotage or otherwise indulge in any activity, which would hamper the normal production in the factory".

The strike has spread due to the tough stand taken by the Maruti management, an expert said.

“This is not something that Maruti would have liked to happen especially when everybody is expecting good sales around the festive season," the expert said. “There is a huge demand for diesel cars and Suzuki Powertrain supplies diesel engines to Maruti’s facilities. I think even if you keep working at Gurgaon plant, you can’t continue for long as you will run out of stock for diesel engines. So if the strike continues, Maruti will be in trouble."

At least 56% of all compacts sold in August were diesel cars. The figure has steadily risen from 39% in July 2010 to 45% in January to 51% in June. At least 70% of the cars sold in India are small cars.

Suzuki Powertrain employs more than 2,000 workers at its Manesar plant, where it manufactures diesel engines and transmissions for Maruti. The plant has an annual production capacity of 300,000 units.

Maruti managing executive officer (marketing and sales) Mayank Pareek had said previously that the demand for diesel models had risen significantly over the last six-nine months. “If, for example, we are selling 100 units of Swift per month, at least 75% of them are diesel versions," he had said.