The recent Bombay High Court judgement striking down ‘rotational employment of temporary workers’ at Bajaj Auto is a welcome development. Call it an unfair labour practice if you think that exploitation is a rather bad word.
That temporary workers and contract workers are employed for seven months and then given a break only to be called again is well known. It is so common that many people think that it is a normal practice. The problem with anything becoming a common practice is that people stop worrying whether it is just and fair.
Long back I met a worker from Bosch in Nashik. In his mid-forties, he was a cheerful person. We discussed his career with the company. He said, “Sir, I worked as temporary worker here for sixteen years before they absorbed me in permanent position. The best years of my youth were spent with the Damocles’ sword of unemployment hanging over my head. I got married during those years, my children grew up and started their schooling. My wife would be uncomfortable and tense whenever I got a break. Your social status also drops if you do not have a job. It is embarrassing to meet relatives and tell them you are on a break!” (The Terrible Life of Temporary Workers )
I also pointed out this pernicious labour practice in my blog ‘The Contracts of Exploitation’ (Just a thought: Why is it called an unfair labour practice when it is actually an unfair management practice?). Here is what I wrote:
Rajendra is the eldest son of his parents, and has responsibility to support them too.
“Where were you employed?”
“At Tata Motors. I did three periods there” Rajendra took out his service certificate from his bag.
‘Period’ is a term quite commonly used to denote a period of seven months. Tata Motors employs temporary workers for seven months and then terminates their service. They are re-employed later for another term of seven months.
Why seven months? It means 210 days. All employers fear that if they employ a worker for 240 days, he can justify the demand for permanent job. In certain cases, the standing orders require making him permanent.
Employing for seven months and then terminating service is quite a common practice in manufacturing industry. Though very exploitative, it is common. There are industries in Pune where workers have been working in temporary jobs for fifteen to twenty years! And yet it is almost well accepted, and even unions have not raised much voice against it!
But hopefully things will change. In a recent judgment in the case of Bajaj Auto (Shri Sunil Pralhad Khomane & Ors. vs. Bajaj Auto Ltd., Akurdi, Pune) Justice Mr. SC Gupte has called ‘seven months work and break before re-employment’ an unfair labour practice. The Hon’ble judge has also granted sumptuous compensation to the temporary workers. Hopefully this case would be a deterrent enough to the unconscionable employers, and provide relief to the thousands of temporary workers.
Bajaj Auto had employed more than four thousand temporary workers. And they were given breaks and re-employed systematically. They went to the court against this practice. It has taken them more than twenty-five years to get justice!
Readers of my blog will also recall how Bajaj auto had suddenly closed down their Akurdi factory in September 2007 and had literally thrown hundreds of workers on street.
I remember this because of a recent statement of Rajiv Bajaj. Economic Times reports, ‘Bajaj Auto, has announced further support for its employees as the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic continues to spread across the country.’ And goes further to quote him – read carefully ‘Rajiv Bajaj, managing director, Bajaj Auto, said “When asked how we should treat others, Ramana Maharshi replied, ‘There are no others’.
Hopefully, things are changing!
(I wish to thank Mr. Abhay Damle for his help in this matter.)
Vivek S Patwardhan
“What you leave behind is not what is engraved in stone monuments, but what is woven into the lives of others.” **** “Aroehan: Creating Dream Villages in Mokhada by 2025: “No Malnutrition Deaths, No Child ‘Out of School’, Reduction in migration by 50%.”