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How 2011 shaped 2012 for Maruti, its workers

Akshat Kaushal  |  New Delhi 

Maruti Suzuki

The year 2011 is something India's largest carmaker Maruti Suzuki India Limited might want to forget. By the time that year ended, Maruti had lost Rs 1,000 crore. Workers had gone on strike thrice and 55 productive days were wasted. Even if Maruti manages to put 2011 behind it, none of the 26 workers released from jail on Friday would forget 2011. For, their fates were sealed that year, like the other 122 who continue to await justice.

It all began in June 2011, when a 13-day workers' strike at Maruti's Manesar plant ended 11 years of industrial peace at the company, which sold itself as the manufacturer of India's family car. It was on a Saturday afternoon (June 4) that 2,500 workers went on a strike. The workers primarily wanted three things: The management recognise a new union at the company's Manesar plant; 700-odd contract workers be paid and be given perks similar to permanent workers; and, workers not be forced to sign the good-conduct bond. While Maruti was resisting the demands, it was most opposed to the one on granting recognition to the Manesar union.

According to Maruti, the Gurgaon plant had a union and, hence, there was no need. More than the management of these multiple unions, the car maker was concerned the Manesar union was being backed by the Left. If recognised, it would result in third-party interferences in the company's affairs.

Both sides stuck to their positions. However, with the Haryana government stepping in, a settlement was reached 13 days later, but without resolving issues such as the fate of the contract workers or a final settlement on forming a union.

Naturally, the peace didn't last too long. Within a month of this agreement, workers first went on a one-hour tool-down protest. In August-end, they went on a strike. This time, the flashpoint was a refusal of workers to sign the good-conduct bond. Once they started the strike, the workers demanded their union be recognised and contract workers be given a better deal, both of which were turned down by Maruti.

This strike lasted for 33 days. In the end, the workers agreed to sign the bond. However, while this agreement was reached, a fresh issue cropped up. While the strike was on, Maruti had decided to hire new workers to keep the factory running. This meant some of the striking workers had to lose their jobs. So, when the strike ended, these workers remained dissatisfied. This became the reason for another 14-day strike. And what added to Maruti's headache was that two other subsidiaries of Suzuki Motor Corporation in India - Suzuki Powertrain India Limited and Suzuki Motorcycle India Private Limited - also went on strike.

The problems for Maruti did not seem to end. Around that time, came that the company had bought peace by offering a lucrative severance package to 30 workers, who were under suspension. These workers also included those who were leading the agitation for forming a union in the Manesar plant (Maruti had recognised a workers' union at its Manesar plant before the July 2012 violence). While the company did not disclose the sum it paid, media reports cited that each worker was paid around Rs 16 lakh.

So while the leaders of the protest pocketed big money, the rest felt betrayed. And what remained unresolved were the issues, which had first begun the June strike and which could have contributed to the violence that broke out in July 2012.

First Published: Sat, March 21 2015. 00:31 IST