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Corporate Aug 1, 2012

Post-Manesar, Maruti wants to be best shopfloor paymaster

By Sindhu Bhattacharya

New Delhi: Maruti Suzuki India, which is facing the worst labour crisis ever, said today that it wants to pay the best remuneration to its workers among all automobile companies in India.

Maruti's Manesar plant, which produces most of its fast-selling diesel cars, has been under a lockout since 18 July after violence broke out. The situation at Manesar, many believe, festered for months due to Maruti's inability to align the expectations of pay and work environment for contract workers against what was paid to permanent employees of the company.

Manesar had only about 900 permanent workers against 2,100 who were working as contractual labour. The labour unions allege that contract workers draw less than half the wages of permanent workers. They are also mostly denied other benefits like medical, Provident Fund, etc.

Background checks on contract labour were not done by Maruti but by labour agencies which provide these workers.Naresh Sharma/Firstpost

Maruti's Chief Operating Officer (Administration) SY Siddiqui told Firstpost: "Maruti wants to be the best paymaster in the automobile industry. We have already told this to all our workers since the wage settlement process was on at both Manesar and Gurgaon".

Dismissing the claims of worker unions that there is a huge disparity between wages offered to contractual labour and permanent employees, Siddiqui said a technician trainee (permanent) who joins as a fresher is offered a gross salary of Rs 12,500 whereas a contract worker is offered Rs 12,000. After three years, the permanent worker's cost-to-company (CTC) becomes Rs 23,250, he said.

Kuldeep Janghu, General Secretary of the Maruti Kamgar Union (Gurgaon plant), had told Firstpost earlier that a young permanent worker at Maruti's Gurgaon plant had a CTC of Rs 15,000-18,000 whereas experienced hands enjoyed CTC of up to Rs 25,000 a month. But a contract workers draws much less at just Rs 7,500.

The Gurgaon plant has 5,000-5,500 contract workers versus just 3,000 regular employees and another 700-800 apprentices.

Siddiqui also said that there had been no discussion with the Haryana government on lifting the lockout at Manesar after the government gave assurances of adequate security for workers at the site. "We will not lift the lockout till action on the ground is visible and culprits are brought to book. Our people will not be convinced with anything less". He agreed this could be a long drawn out process.

A story in Mail Today newspaper this morning quoted Maruti Chairman RC Bhargava as saying that the violence at Manesar on 18 July was conceived by a small group of people. "These could be extreme Left-wing elements who want society to change through virtual creation of chaos".

So did Maruti not conduct enough background checks before hiring contract workers? Siddiqui made it clear that background checks on contract labour were not done by Maruti but by labour agencies which provide these workers.

He also pointed out that in September last year, Maruti's management had decided to weed out contract labour from direct manufacturing activities and this decision was conveyed to workers at both Gurgaon and Manesar. So as and when the Manesar facility reopens, Maruti will be conducting written tests and interviews for all recruitments - even for contract workers who want permanent jobs.

Also, won't non-payment of salaries to Manesar employees for July create a flashpoint in future negotiations with workers? "Under lockout norms, no salary is given, so where is the question of distinguishing between workers who were involved in the violence and those who were innocent?" The company suspects that contract workers led the violence which resulted in the death of an HR manager and 97 other managers being injured.

by Sindhu Bhattacharya

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