It has been five days since about 1,500 Maruti Suzuki employees at the company’s Manesar facility in Haryana are on strike. Dressed in company uniform and cap, they squat inside the gates of the facility, shouting slogans like “stop exploitation” and “we will not bear the oppression”.
Outside the gates, there are hundreds of private security guards, hired by the company management from security services provider GS4, ready with their gear helmets and sticks, to move in if there is any untoward incident.
The family members of protesting employees also troop down to the site at regular intervals with food and butter milk. Many of them have come from Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Uttarakhand to show solidarity with their wards.
The workers are in no mood to relent, as talks with the management remained inconclusive today. They claim the flashpoint for the strike on Saturday was when the management asked about 400 workers to sign on the dotted line on a blank paper, saying they would not join the new union.
Surender Kumar, who works on the second shift, said, “On Saturday, we got a call from the workers in the first shift that the management was forcibly making them sign on blank papers, after we went for registration of our new union in Chandigarh on Friday.”
But a senior company executive asked: “What does stop them from saying no, if we hypothetically did such a thing? If 400 of them say no, what can a management do? Nothing. This is ridiculous.”
The employees complain the current union, Maruti Udyog Kamgar Union (MUKU), is dominated by the company’s Gurgaon facility and does not address their daily problems.
Another protesting worker on the site, Pradeep (28), said, “MUKU only addresses the problems of the Gurgaon plant’s employees. Since we don’t have an independent union, our demands are being suppressed by the management. We don’t even know the names of the union leaders, neither has MUKU ever approached us.”
Apart from the new union’s recognition, the workers are also demanding the absorption of 700 contract workers at the Manesar plant as permanent workers in the two upcoming units. They complain they do not get leaves and their basic salaries are pathetic. They are forced to come to work even when they get injured or fall sick.
Employee Shiv Kumar (30) said, “If we take a day off, the management deducts Rs 1,500 from our salary. The basic salary of a permanent employee is Rs 5,150. Also, the duration of our lunch and tea break is too less, just of seven and a half minutes each. Even if we report five seconds late to work or forget to register attendance, we are marked absent. We don’t even have liberty to go to the toilet in between.”
But Chairman R C Bhargava says the key problem is that the workers did not have any discussions at all.
“If workers had any grievance, they could have informed us and we would have had discussions. But they chose to call an illegal strike without giving any notice. Have you ever heard of a strike, where there has been no discussion? You generally go to a strike when the discussions have failed, not before the discussions have happened,” he said.
The company claims the working conditions and rules of the Manesar facility are similar to that of the Gurgaon unit. “If for 30 years, they are being followed in the Gurgaon plant, how is it that the workers in Manesar cannot?” asked another senior executive of the company.