A violent stand-off between the workers and the management of Maruti Suzuki India Ltd, the country’s largest car maker, led to the death of a senior management executive at its Manesar facility on Wednesday. With administration offices and shop-floor areas damaged across the unit, production has come to a standstill. Representatives of the newly instituted Maruti Suzuki Workers’ Union are absconding and uncertainty looms over the resumption of operations. Shinzo Nakanishi, managing director and chief executive of Maruti Suzuki India, in an interview with Sharmistha Mukherjee and Surajeet Das Gupta, talks about how the latest labour unrest is reflective of more than just industrial relations woes. Edited excerpts:
Maruti Suzuki has witnessed four instances of labour unrest at its Manesar facility in the last one year. What led to the recent violence at the unit?
It’s a shock for all of us. We have experienced labour unrest in the past, but what occurred on Wednesday is criminal. Talks were underway between union representatives and management executives over revocation of the suspension of a worker, when the mob turned violent. Over 100 officials were injured, 33 of whom are still in hospitals. We did not get any negative indication from the workforce since the settlement agreement was signed in October. We are conducting internal enquiries, but I do not know what led to the workers resorting to such unprovoked violence.
Wage negotiations were underway. Were workers dissatisfied over the way the talks were progressing?
We have being deliberating over wages with the workers for over three months. To avoid any bias, we had worked out a one-year programme to connect with the young workforce at the Manesar unit. Talks were in advanced stages. The workers had asked for an increment of Rs 15,000-16,000 in their monthly salaries. Though we had offered them an increase of Rs 10,500, no final agreement was reached. Workers at Manesar have not been attending their morning exercises since Monday. However, we read that as an indication that they wanted us to fast-track the wage settlement process peacefully. An agreement was expected in mid-August. But what has happened is not because of problems related to industrial relations.
Are you hinting some external influence could have led to the workers perpetrating such violence at the facility?
I did not see any shadow of external influence when we signed the settlement agreement in October. We acknowledged our workers’ demand for a new union and even helped them in instituting it. If there was outside influence, it is our mistake that we could not find out about it. We are waiting for reports from the Haryana police.
Do you think the Manesar unit would have been better off with the older band of union representatives who dissented, but peacefully? After the recent violence, how would you get executives to work at the factory?
The current leadership of the proposed union was as experienced the previous one. We are going to de-recognise Maruti Suzuki Workers’ Union and dismiss all workers named in connection with the incident. We will not compromise at all in such instances of barbaric, unprovoked violence.
In the current scenario, when would Maruti Suzuki be able to resume operations at Manesar?
I want to resume operations at the earliest. But the administration office has to be rebuilt, portions of the shop-floor have been damaged. We are looking at hiring fresh workers at the Gurgaon unit and shifting some experienced managers and senior workers to Manesar to commence operations in due time. However, for some time, the delivery of models such as Swift and Dzire, which are produced at Manesar, would be delayed. We have an inventory of about 1,00,000 units, and these should last about a month.