Maruti Suzuki, a leader in car production in India has often faced troubles with agitation of workers. It has two plants, one in Gurgaon and another in Manesar both located in Haryana. The protest by workers at Maruti Manesar plant turned violent an 18 July 12. Some 300 workers entered the premises, used rods, tools and anything which they could grab to attack supervisors & managers. They bet them mercilessly and put the premises on fire. About 100 employees were severely injured and one senior HR manager Mr. Awanish Kumar Dev was literally crippled and charred to death. The attack by workers was worst of its kind and that too it happened in a place which is barely 45 km from NCR region. The incident shocked the whole nation and it is difficult to understand that agitation can turn so violent in this century where host of mechanisms are available to amicably solve the issues between management and workers.
The article will try to analyze the most probable cause factors which led to incident and also make an attempt to suggest solutions.
Main Cause Of Incident
To understand the issues involved let us try and see what led to the incident. A few days prior to this incident one supervisor made casteist remarks to one of the workers. The worker slapped the supervisor. Management took swift action and removed the worker from service. The workers were agitating for induction of this employee and wanted know why no action had been taken against the supervisor. This combined with some other simmering issues led to violent attack by workers on that fateful day. The incident at Maruti is an eye-opener and the similar problems lie in many companies which may trigger similar incidents.
Suzuki Company after establishing business with Maruti in India did not totally align with culture & ethos of India. This was visible in employee relations. Prior to this incident workers were on strike at regular intervals since the beginning of June 2012. Enforcing strict discipline in time of punching, very short break for tea or lunch and cutting the salary at slightest pretext was being practiced. There were long hours of work and there were no proper methodology to interact and solve the genuine grievance of workers.
Wages: Contract Labour & Labour Laws.
The contract labourers at Maruti were paid 1/3 of what regular workers was getting for same job. The workers, mostly ITI trained were in the age group 22-25 years. They were mostly single and were living in adjoining villages but due to poor wages the living conditions were quite pathetic.
It has been seen that many organizations are using casual/contract labour for each and every activity mainly to cut costs, whereas law allows casual worker only to be used in tertiary, noncore activities. The differention in wages and other benefits like ESI, PF, Leave etc remain etched in the mind of contract labourers and if the contract gets extended year after year with no permanent job in sight, the frustration begins and gets ignited when call of strike or agitation is given.
The major issue is India’s archaic Labour Laws which are very rigid and place strict limits on number of hires and conditions for retrenchment, forcing manufactures to hire more casual workers. Any amendments to labour laws have met severe resistance by social activist & trade unions. There is need to align labour laws with industrial policies and it should be equally balanced to meet the challenges forced by manufactures in fluctuating demand scenario, as well as aspirations of workers. The contract worker should become a regular employee based on his performance and not because of longer period of work. Similarly reforms in Contract Labour Law Act 1970, Minimum Wages, Act 1948, Industrial Disputes Act 1947 and other acts which were drafted way back need to be amended and made more relevant.
Role of Union : More Emotive Than Constructive
Role of union is decreasing day by day as quality of union leadership is on decline. Union which is meant to solve the workers issues is more often than not aggravating the problem. In many cases it is seen that they create a divide between management and workers and provoke workers with speech and slogans which at times leads to violence. While formation of unions and getting political affiliations are workers rights and are allowed under the Indian Labour laws, the trade union Acts needs to be revisited to see to it that necessary checks and balances are embedded into it so that trade unions remain a powerful tool for workers as well as management. It is noted that majority of disturbance in last 12-13 years in Gurgaon – Manesar belt are due to companies unwillingness to allow formation of unions. While companies should not oppose the democratic rights, it is equally important that unions revisit and reorient their operating model and try to engage more constructively.
Role of Government
It was seen that there was intelligence failure and police inaction which led to mob violence at Maruti plant. The law and order is a state subject and the governments have to play a very important role to keep the industry going which will also help the national economy. The central as well as the state governments are responsible to draft/amend the labour laws and implement it through administrative machinery. The people responsible for the incident must be given exemplary punishment to send a clear message to all.
Role of HR
HR should take a proper stand on workers issues and should not be ‘ Yes’ man in the board room and accept policies which cannot be implemented or affect the rational interest of workers. HR manager should regularly visit floor operations and interact with workers. This will help in understanding the nuances of job, working conditions and develop mutual trust with each other.
Though companies are relying heavily on communication through electronic means or by informing the workers through notice board, periodic one to one communication on issues like production, automation, and change in strategy must be discussed and workers are invited to give suggestions. Workers training, regular employment, promotion, career prospects & benefits, must be transparent. This should be strictly practiced by each department as well as senior managers.
The incident of mass violence also speaks about the demand of equal pay for equal work. In addition the rise in living cost, trend of consumerism and the vast salary gap between senior managers and workers is cause of growing tension and frustration in youth.
There is an urgent need to reform labour laws and professional bodies must put the concerted pressure on central as well as state governments to do the reforms in time bound manner.
India is growing economy and growth can be sustained only through Industrial harmony and peace. The issue must be addressed to entire spectrum of stake holders, be it the government, HR bodies, corporate unions, student fraternity global investors etc. We do need a permanent and long term systemic solutions where discords are handled with dignity and resolutions are found for even most complicated problem.
1. Article -Why this Kolaveri Di? Published in Tehelka.com By Anuradha Parthasarathy
2. Article “ Labor Violence A Blot on Modern India” by Gyanendra Kumar Kashyap & Rajlakshmi Saikia published in People Matters magazine Volume III, Issue 8 August 2012.
3. Article “Lesson from Maruti’s wage hike: Companies need to be proactive about workers “ dated 27 SEP, 2012, ET BUREAU
4. Video :Violence at Maruti’s Manesar plant, 40 managers injured
18 Jul 2012, Duration: 03:16, ET Now
5. Maruti Suzuki
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
6. Article “Manesar Violence has State on Edge” by Vikas Kahol published in India Today Magazine 23 July 2012.