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Spectre of zero production looms at Maruti

Sharmistha Mukherjee & Akshat Kaushal  |  Manesar 

Future of half of parent Suzuki’s global sales volumes and profits at stake.

For the first time in nearly a decade, the country’s largest car maker Limited (MSIL) could be headed for a production standstill. Workers across Suzuki Motor Corporation’s (SMC) three subsidiaries in the country are standing firm on their decision to continue an indefinite sit-in strike at the company’s Manesar facility.

This marks a new low in industrial relations in the country in general and Maruti Suzuki in particular, where operations have been disrupted thrice this year.

When Maruti workers went on a three-month strike in 2000, there was a complete shutdown for the first two-three days. After that, the company had managed to keep the assembly line humming by recruiting afresh.

2000 A 90-day strike at the Gurgaon plant of Maruti Udyog Ltd, over workers demanding a revision of incentives and refusing to sign a good conduct undertaking
2005 Strike at the Manesar plant of Honda Motorcycles and Scooters India Ltd. It saw police action against workers
2009 An 18-day strike at Hyundai Motor India in Tamil Nadu as workers demanded recognition of the employees’ union
2009 MRF’s Arakkonam unit was closed for 185 days over disagreements between management and workers over wage revision
2009 A 50-day strike by workers at Rico Auto industries in Manesar after the killing of an employee by unknown men
May 2011 A six-week strike at General Motors India’s Halol factory, over workers complaining on health issues and protesting against transfer of employees                                            (Cases post 2000)

“The Manesar plant continues to remain captive in the hands of striking workers. The production at the company’s Gurgaon plant has further come down today as there was no supply of diesel engines and also transmissions from Limited (SPIL) due to the strike at the plant,” said a company official.

With the supply of components disrupted from vendor SPIL, production at the Gurgaon unit dwindled to a mere 1,000 units after 1,800 vehicles were rolled out yesterday. The daily output at MSIL now stands at a fifth of the 5,000 units usually produced by the company across its four plants in Gurgaon and Manesar.

For Maruti, which contributes half of its parent Suzuki’s global sales volumes and profits, the timing of the current labour unrest couldn’t have been worse. The company is battling slowing sales, down 10 per cent to 473,089 in the first six months of 2011-12, compared to the same period last fiscal. With the stalemate at its Manesar plant continuing, plans of recovering some ground in the ongoing festive season, a good time for car sales, may come unstuck.

In what could spell further trouble in bringing to an end the labour unrest, the protesting workers at Manesar have refused to involve the company’s sole recognised union (MUKU) in negotiations with the management.

Shiv Kumar, general secretary of the proposed (MSEU), said, “No one from MUKU is supporting us. We will not involve them in talks. Representatives from SPIL, Suzuki Motorcycle and the Manesar plant will negotiate when necessary.”

Recognition for MSEU has been the bone of contention between the warring Manesar workers and the management since early this year. The discord has since moved to the reinstatement of dismissed employees and the terms of the truce after two strikes earlier this year.

Nearly 50,000 workers belonging to in the Gurgaon, Manesar, Dharuhera, Bawal and Rewari region have resolved to demonstrate in front of MSIL’s Manesar facility in solidarity with the protesting workers on Thursday. The workers will demonstrate in front of their respective tomorrow to urge their managements to help resolve the impasse at MSIL.

While the management has said “the strike is in violation of the agreement signed by the workers with the company management on October 1”, workers have alleged the company refused to induct around 1,100 contract workers after the 33-day stand-off last month.

Naresh Kumar, a regular worker at MSIL’s Manesar unit, said, “The company had said the ‘no work, no pay’ rule would be applicable for the period of the unrest. But, now they have deducted wages for 64 days. They have to take everyone back to work and compensate us.”

The company, however, brushed aside the allegation that the workers were protesting due to the non-absorption of contractual employees as agreed. “That is a non-issue. We are gradually ramping up our production at Manesar, including our new 250,000-capacity Manesar B assembly plant. Many of the contract workers are likely to be absorbed in the expanded operations. This has been communicated to the contractual workers through their employers,” it said.

The Haryana Labour department on Tuesday issued a show-cause notice to the protesting workers at Manesar for breaching the terms of settlement. A senior official in the Haryana labour department confirmed the notice had been issued. Haryana labour minister Shiv Charan Lal Sharma said the government was not negotiating with the management and workers. “The management told us it would resolve the issue with the workers,” Sharma said.

The state labour commissioner Satwanti Ahlawat, who was involved in negotiations with the workers earlier, said, “The company will take the contract workers back according to its need. The workers cannot force the company to take everyone back.”

First Published: Wed, October 12 2011. 00:54 IST