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Corporate Jul 21, 2012

Lockout: Maruti wants to talk, but workers have disappeared

By Sindhu Bhattacharya

New Delhi: Is lockout a solution to Maruti Suzuki India's labour woes? The company today declared a lockout at Manesar, said production of diesel models (made at Manesar) cannot be shifted to Gurgaon since this facility is already running to full capacity and during lockout, workers at Manesar will be paid as per norms.

The Maruti top management today appeared rather keen to share details of all initiatives the company has taken since labour trouble last year to settle issues raised by workers then. But it has still not worked out how or when a dialogue with workers will begin to restart production at Manesar and any timeline for the lockout to be lifted.

"Who should we talk to? The union leaders have all gone underground.....the Haryana Government and Maruti Suzuki India will conduct independent inquiries into the violence which took a life and injured scores of others. We are declaring a lockout at Manesar since Maruti values the lives of its people above everything else," Chairman R C Bhargava said.

Maruti is ready to talk but the union seems to have gone underground. Naresh Sharma/Firstpost

Speaking to the media today, he listed out three issues that the workers had raised last year - today is the first time Maruti has spoken about issues which caused production disruption for 59 days last year. These were: workers wanted a union which was independent and not a affiliate of the union at the Gurgaon plant; they felt contract workers were being exploited and also had issues with salary deductions, incentives and leave.

Bhargava asserted that with the registration of the new union earlier this year, their first grievance was addressed. Also, Maruti has begun changing its policy on contract workers and will phase them out completely from "value added" work by March next year. "We are now hiring contract workers through company HR and not through a contractor. And these workers are being given priority in future recruitments. Other issues on leave, incentives etc have also been addressed".

So according to the company, workers really had no issues to sort out when they went on a rampage. But
then why did workers turn violent? Bhargava merely said an inquiry is on and the culprits would be brought to justice. He also alleged that contrary to workers' assertion, not a single worker had been injured in the riot which broke out on Wednesday and only senior managers of the company were injured. He spoke of fractures in both arms and also in legs in some cases. Of the 96 officials admitted to local hospitals on Wednesday, 72 have been discharged till now.

Brushing aside allegations that prolonged wage hike negotiations led to the protest on July 18th, Bhargava said the union leader was in constant touch with management officials throughout the fateful day. "He only spoke of reinstating a suspended worker, he never said anything else through many phone calls all of that day.....we have no idea what triggered this situation".

So what really led to the violent events at Maruti? Unless the union leaders - who have apparently gone underground - or some workers speak up, this issue is unlikely to be cleared up anytime soon.

Bhargava also made a rather interesting comment on another problem which workers had cited last year: only two tea breaks of 7.5 minutes each. He said that workers in Maruti's Gurgaon facility have been working under this condition for the last 29 years and have never complained. So should no one complain against a practice simply because its a long held one?

Also, it is now entirely possible that Maruti will ask the Haryana Government to cancel the registration of the new union, though Bhargava denied this saying this issue was not "even under consideration" at the moment. If this happens, workers will be back to square one.

by Sindhu Bhattacharya

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