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At Sanand, Tata Motors offers roses, then continues to reap thorns

The striking workers at India's largest automobile company Tata Motors' Sanand site don't seem to be amused with the roses offered by the company officials. After daylong negotiations on Friday, amid slogans of 'majdoor ekta zindabad', the striking workers at the site have not been convinced to resume work. However, a small section of workers, 25 of them, have left the group and reported back to work in the past few days.

Is this the first sign of a blink on the part of the workers? At least two or three striking workers who were leaving in a group after their shift timings, sounded worried - worried about what the future had in store for them. Some admitted that stress levels in the families were mounting.

M S Patel, assistant labour commissioner, Ahmedabad zone, confirmed that 25 workers have rejoined in the past few days, thus bringing down the number of striking workers to below 400 from an earlier 422. Busloads of apprentices, and ITI (Industrial Training Institute) graduates were spotted leaving the premises during the day, including a few buses that plied the non-striking permanent workers back home. At least 750 such employees were ferried after the morning shift ended.

The striking workers at Tata Motors' Sanand site don't seem to be amused with the roses offered
  After daylong negotiations on Friday, the striking workers at the site not convinced to resume work
  However, a small section of workers, about 25 of them, have left the group and reported back to work
  Labour commissioner, confirmed that about 25 workers have rejoined in the past few days
When asked, what could be the impact of workers abstaining from work at site, a worker said, "It would affect them now, as they have to roll out the Tiago vehicle," hinting at the strategic timing of the strike.

The company, on its part, had been commuting these striking workers to and fro from the site for the past 12 days. However, now it does not seem to be in the mood to do so, especially after the labour department ruled against the strike on Wednesday. As the strike continued after the labour department order, it is now deemed illegal. Patel explained. "It will now be a no-work-no-pay system, and these workers would not get any pay if they do not join back. The company also now holds the legal right to fire them," he said. Workers informed that the company had conveyed to them that striking workers would no longer be allowed to enter the premises, until they joined duty.

Since morning on Friday, multiple rounds of meeting went on inside the Sanand site. Police officials from the nearby police station, including deputy superintendent of police of Ahmedabad (rural) P O Bhatt, and Patel, human resources officials held talks with workers at the site. The company said, "The government of Gujarat order dated March 2 prohibits the strike at our plant and directs workmen to resume work and restore normalcy. However, despite our repeated appeals and advisories by various government agencies, workmen continued to illegally occupy the plant premises on Thursday and even since Friday morning. We have clearly communicated the government order that they either resume their duty or vacate the premises. As included in the order, the matter is refererred to the industrial tribunal and we will abide by this process."

The workers were told to fight their case in the industrial tribunal and accept the judgement. Hitesh Rabari, a striking worker, said, "We were asked to temporarily resume work, and wait for the tribunal to come out with its verdict. We, however, would not join back till the 28 suspended are not taken back. What is the guarantee that the company will not suspend more workers later?"

Rabari, however, looked a worried man on Friday, unsure of what lay ahead for him.

"Our real issue is that of salary hikes. However, with this issue of suspension of workers, the real focus seems lost," he admitted.

Patel and his team have been trying hard to convince the workers to rejoin and wait for the tribunal to do its job. The unwilling workers are staring at a lengthy fight ahead of them.