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For workers at Manesar, even better conditions leave much to be desired

Manesar, part of the Gurgaon Lok Sabha constituency, emerged into prominence when the late Congress leader Sanjay Gandhi decided to establish a Maruti plant in 1970

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Voters show their fingers marked with indelible ink after casting votes for the fourth phase of Lok Sabha elections, in Bardhaman, Monday, May 13, 2024.(Photo: PTI)

Sarthak Choudhury Manesar
In the bustling Labour Chowk of Manesar’s Industrial Model Township, Ramesh, a 39-year-old from Uttar Pradesh, and his friend, Chand, 27, share a moment of levity. They had queued up for a meal at a mobile canteen, only to find the kitchen not yet ready for service.

Their laughter echoes amid the throng of workers, all eager to earn their day’s wage. “Isn’t it amusing how our paths crossed?” Ramesh muses. “I studied at an industrial training institute (ITI) in Pusa, while he learned of an opportunity through his village friends. Despite his lack of formal schooling, we both found ourselves employed by the same firm 12 years ago.”
 
The irony of their shared circumstance is neither lost on them nor on the many others who crowd Labour Chowk — to work and earn as much as they can to survive the day.
 
Manesar, part of the Gurgaon Lok Sabha constituency, emerged into prominence when the late Congress leader Sanjay Gandhi decided to establish a Maruti plant in 1970. Over the decades, the plant has evolved into a vital cog in the wheel of the NCR industrial hub.
 
Yet, beneath the surface of this success story, the reality for many workers remains grim, especially regarding jobs and working conditions. A contract worker in Maruti Suzuki’s assembly line painted a stark picture of the disparity between regular and contractual workers. 

“The press shop, weld shop, and assembly are the major parts of an original equipment manufacturer (OEM)... The pace of work is dictated by the speed of the machines. As each car model rolls in, workers scramble to fit the corresponding part, signalling its completion before moving on to the next vehicle,” he explains. “Regular and contractual workers work side-by-side in tandem. Despite this, we are paid less than half of the amount paid to regular workers, that too without the benefits given to them.”
 
But a regular worker in the company’s assembly line offered a different perspective. “The situation is far better than what it was earlier... If there is a safety complaint, it is accorded priority status. Even the salary structure is great. When I joined in 2008 on a contract basis, my salary was Rs 1.2 lakh per annum. It was increased to over Rs 2 lakh after I became permanent. The fresher’s salary has now gone up to Rs 3.5 lakh and goes up to over Rs 4 lakh after they become permanent.”
 
The political leanings of these workers are as diverse as their experiences. One contract worker recounted how he inadvertently voted for Rao Inderjit Singh, the incumbent MP from Gurgaon, due to lack of access to timely news. “I voted for the Congress in 2009. It didn’t help us much back then. So I decided to vote for the BJP in 2014. We aren’t able to follow the news properly. So when the BJP was voted to power, I found out after two months that Rao Inderjit Singh had switched to BJP,” he says, with a wry smile. 
 
The quality of jobs available is another point of contention.  The tiered structure of OEMs and their vendors further complicates the situation, says another worker at the chowk, adding that Tier-III and Tier-IV companies, which manufacture components for car engines, often fall under the unorganised sector, leaving their workers without the benefits enjoyed by those in Tier-II, Tier-I, and the OEMs. ‘Tier-III and Tier-IV firms mostly manufacture components for the production of engines in cars. These are processed by Tier-I and Tier-II firms before being sold to OEMs,” he adds.
 
“We work in dingy bylanes and, at times, without even a proper roof. Some of my friends here work in places (Tier-IV firms) where they are the only employees. Funds are dispersed by OEMs but only a trickle reaches us. It is hand-to-mouth,” says another worker.
 
Despite these challenging conditions, some workers remain loyal to the BJP, crediting the party for the existence of Tier-III and Tier-IV firms and the introduction of a food truck that serves lunch for a nominal fee. “The condition isn’t ideal but it’s better than having nothing. Even the food truck here that serves lunch for Rs 10 was introduced by the BJP government in the state,” says the aforementioned worker. 
 
The introduction of the four labour codes was seen as a beacon of hope for many workers. However, delays in implementation have left many workers in limbo. Ramesh, who broke his leg in an accident two years ago while returning 
from work, received no compensation from his firm. 
 
The labour codes were intended to address these issues, but feelings toward them are mixed. Ramesh, reflecting on the labour unrest in Manesar in 2011, expressed a willingness to wait, seeing these codes as a promising start to addressing long-standing issues. 
 
The Gurgaon Lok Sabha seat goes to polls on May 25. 

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First Published: May 14 2024 | 11:20 PM IST

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