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Corporate Jul 23, 2012

Manesar unrest: Real issue is worker-executive pay disparity

By Arlene Chang

Social worker and Magsaysay Award winner Sandeep Pandey has condemned the violence at Maruti Suzuki's Manesar plant last Wednesday which claimed the life of its human resources general manager, Awanish Kumar Dev and injured over 80 persons.

However, he said that as long as the divide between the rich and the poor increases, there is bound to be discord.

"I condemn the violence that took place at Manesar and that should not have been done by the workers. Any dispute they had should have been settled within the basic rights of the law," Pandey told Firstpost. However, "If you are increasing the pay of the management and not that of the workers; if you are not hiring at lower level but hiring only at higher levels, this gap will widen," he said.

Following the violence at its Manesar plant -- when workers attacked managers at the plant, used furniture and rods to beat up the company's executives and destroy and burn the company's property-- Maruti Suzuki stopped production at the factory on Wednesday.

Much has been made of permanent employees getting double the salary of laborers doing the same work: Naresh Sharma/Firstpost

Pandey says that while the action of the workers at the plant was wrong, there may be a reason they behaved the way they did considering that the plant has seen agitations at least thrice in the last year.

"The temporary workers are not made permanent and the company was not allowing them to form an independent union. Even the Gurgaon plant union and the Manesar union didn't have any contact whatsoever. The company also didn't allow them to form any affiliation with larger national trade unions," he said.

Much has already been said of permanent workers at Maruti's Manesar plant earning around Rs 17,000-18,000 a month and contract labourers getting around Rs 7,000 a month, despite doing the same work. Pandey too is of the view that this pay parity, clubbed with poor government policiesand mismanagement by the company, has also been responsible for building up the anger among the Manesar plant workers.

"The rich-poor divide is increasing and this behavior is an outcome of the policies being adopted by the government and the management. They have not been able able to handle the aspirations of the workers," Pandey said.

"The government should rethink economic policies and the management should rethink their own policies," he said, adding, "We all hope that the plant restarts as the workers' earnings are linked to the plant's functioning."

As a result of the unrest, the company at a press meeting last Saturday announced a lockout and also said that it plans to phase out all casual workers from value-added shopfloor functions by March next year.

This means no contract labour would be used on the press and paint shops and assembly lines.

"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", Maruti Chairman, RC Bhargava said at the press meet on 21 July.

Pandey, 2002 Ramon Magsaysay Award winner, yesterday met trade union representativesof Maruti's Gurgaon plant.

Talking to Firstpost, Pandey said that Kuldeep Singh Janghu, secretary general of the Maruti Suzuki Kamgaar Union - which represents workers at the company's Gurgaon plant -- condemned the vandalism and violence but has demanded a CBI inquiry into the incident.

Pandey, however, did not meet any of Maruti Suzuki's company officials or any worker or union member of Maruti's Manesar plant.

by Arlene Chang

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