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    Posted on 21 October 2011

    Truce signed, Maruti strike ends again

    While the third round of strike by workers at the Manesar plant has come to a close with the signing of another pact, the larger demand for a new union still remains unaddressed

    Janani Ganesan
    New Delhi

    The worker's demand for forming a new union has still not been addressed

    The management of the Maruti Suzuki India Limited (MSIL) factory at Manesar signed an agreement with the representatives of the striking workers on Friday morning. The workers had been on the third round of strike since 7 October.

    This time the media decided to concentrate on the demands of the workers rather than the falling production at the plant and the plunging Maruti shares, as it had on the previous two rounds of protest. The third strike was the most contagious with workers from three other Maruti plants joining the protest. The media caught wind of the details of the agreement in the wee hours of Friday even before the workers were apprised of the situation. After being unavailable for the entire morning, the union leaders of all the four striking Maruti plants at Manesar turned up at the factory site at noon to share the details of the agreement with the workers, who were present outside the gates of the factory.

    Under the agreement, the company has promised to reinstate 64 out of the 94 suspended workers. The remaining 30 workers shall remain suspended and their fate would be decided by an enquiry commission within the next ten days. The company claims it had gone through the charges against the workers on individual basis and considered charges against 30 of them to be of “serious nature”. A Grievance Redressal Committee and a Labour Welfare Committee will be set up with representatives from both the management and the workers. The workers will not be paid wages or salary for the period of the strike. But the company has agreed to take care of the request for transport facilities.

    In spite of all these promises, the agreement does not mention the original demand of the workers for a union. Nevertheless, permanent as well as contract workers will resume work at all the four Maruti plants from Saturday.

    The high drama began on 4 June with the workers rejecting the existing union, the Maruti Udyog Kamgar Union (MUKU) as they believed that it was under the control of the management. But they were denied the right to form a separate union and hence the workers of MSIL went on strike. The Haryana government was quick to point out that the workers could not demand a new union as they were already part of MUKU. Subsequently, an agreement was signed on 16 June with the workers resuming work.

    Later, the workers then resigned from MUKU and resubmitted the request to form an union. “We were not allowed to register,” says Shiv Kumar, General Secretary of the Maruti Employee Suzuki Union (MESU), the union they’d like the government and the company to recognise. They went on strike again on 28 August. But after one month’s strike, the company and the government refused to relent. Having already gone without a salary for the month, the workers agreed to sign a goodwill agreement provided all workers be reinstated. The second truce agreement was signed on 30 September.

    A week later, the workers started protesting again. When 1,200 contract workers were not reinstated, the permanent workers sensed foul play. The contractors tried to convince the contract workers that the permanent workers had left them behind. The 3,000-odd permanent workers who were reinstated did not find themselves in a convenient position either. Their departments were changed forcing them into unfamiliar territory.

    According to the agreement, the workers were not supposed to willfully cause a drop in production. But when shoved into new departments, they couldn’t cope up with the work. Maruti claimed that it was normal practice–“If some adjustments are required for smooth manufacturing at shop floors, the company can always change work stations or place people in other departments. This is an established practice in any organisation irrespective of nature of business and is respected by employees.”

    The company obtained an order from the High Court not allowing the workers to strike inside the factory premises. There was high drama as the workers inside the factory were cut out from the world and were locked inside with police present all over the place. With no water and food, the workers then decided to come out and continue with their strike. Finally, the third agreement was signed on Friday.

    Will the third agreement last? It is certainly is not the first one in Maruti’s history. When the government wanted to sell its shares it held in Maruti in 2001, workers went on strike. They had also pointed out the inhumane working conditions which they feared would get worse once the government sold its shares. A truce was signed with some workers being suspended and the rest reinstated. Maruti continued to produce more and more cars. Ten years hence, the demands of the workers are the same--a more humane working environment. They don’t want air-conditioned factories but only proper toilets and tea breaks.

    The three agreements signed this year don’t mention the workers’ demand for a union even once. The workers believe that their representatives in the two committees will discuss the matter with the management. Lawyer Rajender Pathak, who was arguing for the workers on the demand for a union in the Gurgaon District Court, claims that the issue would never be addressed directly. “The workers wanted to affiliate themselves with the AICTU, which is a communist union. The government knows very well that it is not a soft union. The problem is not of forming a union but with its affiliation,” he says.

    Janani Ganesan is a Trainee Correspondent with Tehelka.
    [email protected]

    SocialTwist Tell-a-Friend
    Posted on 21 October 2011



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