The strike by workers of Maruti Suzuki’s plant in Manesar is threatening to spread across the auto belt of Haryana. The All India Trade Union Congress (AITUC) and unions backed by it have warned of a day’s strike in over 50 auto companies in the area.
The 2,500 workers who have struck work since Saturday are demanding recognition to a new union that will be independent of the Gurgaon plant union. They are also complaining about low basic salary, fewer breaks from work and a huge cut in salaries if they come late for work or take leave.
The company’s production loss due to the strike has been 5,000 cars worth Rs 200 crore.
In a sign that the agitation is gaining strength, 2,000 members of AITUC-backed unions, representing workers of Hero Honda, RICO Auto, Honda Motorcycles and Scooters India and the Sona group, today sat on a dharna in front of the Maruti plant .
AITUC is coordinating with other unions affiliated to rival parties, including Centre of Indian Trade Unions (Citu), Hind Mazdoor Sabha, Indian National Trade Union Congress and United Trade Union Congress. These unions have formed a joint action committee.
V L Sachdeva, secretary, AITUC, said, “As we are a major union in this area, it’s our prime responsibility to support any cause that involves the rights of our affiliated workers. We are observing a day’s satyagraha at the entrance of Maruti’s Manesar plant. If the management doesn’t accept our demands today, the workers of other neighbouring plants will go on a day’s strike.”
Sachdeva says if around 500,000 workers strike work for a day, the companies will lose thousands of crores of rupees. “If we boycott work, their supply to vendors will be halted. In no way can they suppress our movement”.
The CPI (M)-led Citu confirmed it had joined the joint action committee. It said the management was browbeating the workers and had full control over the existing union.
Dipankar Mukherjee, general secretary, Citu, said, “The main objective of this committee is to protect the right of workers to form a union. The management cannot force its choice on workers. The existing union works at the behest of the management”. Citu has asked the labour ministry to intervene in the matter.
The management, however, has a different story. “We have been ready to talk to them. But the problem is that the union is not registered. Where is the question of recognising it?” said Chairman R C Bhargava.
The workers have also demanded that the 700-odd contract labourers, accounting for about 30 per cent workforce, be given preference for permanent posts in new plants that the company is building.
On this, Bhargava said, “We are trying to reduce contract workers as much as possible and absorb them as trainees.”
On salaries, the management says the average take-home salary of a contract worker with one-two years experience is the same (Rs 12,600) as a trainee worker who passes out from a technical institute. It says contract workers get nearly three times more than the prevailing wages in the area.
After three years in the company, trainee workers, depending on performance, can get an average salary of Rs 25,000, excluding medical facilities, food subsidy and uniform.
“The average salary of a permanent employee with a similar experience in this auto belt is not more than Rs 16,000-17,000. We pay more than the market rates,” said an executive.
Auto sector strikes backed by AITUC have been common in Haryana’s Gurgaon-Manesar-Bawal belt. They reflect the unions’ bid to increase clout in the area, which accounts for 60 per cent of the country’s auto production. What has made it easier for the unions is the fact that 80 per cent out of 1 million workers in this auto hub have been hired on contract.
The workers have conveyed their key demands to the management -- recognition of the union, reinstatement of the 11 sacked workers and an assurance that there will be action against the striking workers. “We will not compromise on these points and will continue to strike work until these demands are met,” said Shiv Kumar, the general secretary of the proposed union.