Maruti Suzuki Strike: Can we count on them?

Here is what we know from the press reports about the Maruti Suzuki workers’ strike at their Manesar Plant. A quick recap will help us understand the situation well.
1.  1   The Manesar factory workers feel that the Gurgaon factory union does not represent them adequately. “The workers said the company currently has one union, Maruti Suzuki Kamgar Union, which is mainly dominated by those working at the Gurgaon facility. The Manesar plant is completely different and issues are also separate. So we are asking for recognition of our new union. But the management has forcibly taken written undertakings from workers that they are happy with the old union,” a source claimed.”

2.   2  The distance between Manesar and Gurgaon is not much, just about 15 Kms. So essentially the workforce is culturally the same, but they have obviously drifted apart in their relationship.
3.  3  Interestingly the Union at Manesar was not even registered, they have applied for it. AITUC which is trying to have a foot hold in Maruti Udyog is supported by INTUC in this battle for recognition.
4.  4 Striking workers are demanding the recognition of a new union — Maruti Suzuki Employees Union (MSEU) — formed by those working at the Manesar plant, besides retaining contract labourers for the two upcoming new units inside the complex.
5.    Eleven workmen have been dismissed, and it is now one of the issues between the Company and the new union.
6.    Various unions operating in the area threatened to hold similar protests across other companies. Many issued notices to their companies, urging intervention in the matter or face protests. There are about 55 autoworkers unions in the Gurgaon-Manesar area, most affiliated to the central unions. The companies whose unions served notices include Rico Auto, Omaxe, Honda Motorcycles and Scooters India and Satyam Auto. The unions said formation of a separate union at Manesar was legal, something acknowledged by the Haryana government earlier. They demanded that Maruti also take back the eleven sacked employees.
7.    The Haryana government, under the provisions of Industrial Disputes Act 1947, referred the dispute to the Labour Court. It has now banned the strike!

8.    AITUC secretary has said that they have essentially two demands – reinstatement of 11 workmen and recognition of the union at Manesar.

9.    The union elections are coming up. Manesar workers feel that they should not be represented by Maruti Suzuki Kamgar Union which is dominated by Gurgaon workers.

1010 Business Line quotes a worker from Manesar ““We have just one demand, that our workers at Manesar should not be forced to affiliate themselves with the Gurgaon union. That is a management-backed union and does not know of the problems at the Manesar plant.”

1111  No notice of strike was given to the Company by the Union.
What emerges from these facts is that the factions within the workers union are fighting their battle now by forming a separate union. Immediate recognition is sought and a strike is resorted to. Pressure is put on the management to concede the demands. The management must be in the most unenviable situation. The union at Gurgaon will be cautiously watching developments to jump in the fray at an appropriate moment.
The Government has invoked legal provisions to ban the strike but unions are not known to respect it anyway. Moreover they have garnered support of other workers in the other industries.
Quite obviously there are political motives. On a different plane, two establishments desiring to have separate representation is quite a common experience. There is some competition between them. The competition can take interesting turns but essentially it results in ego battles. When I was a student in early seventies, I had visited Tata Motors [then TELCO] office in Pune. A settlement was arrived between workers and the Tata management, [there was only one union then] but there was a dispute between workers on the question of where it should be signed – at Pimpri or Chinchwad.
The MRTU & PULP Act [a Maharashtra State Law] allows separate representational status of unions in different establishments even under the same management, but in practice it raises several issues for managements. Can the Company have two different wage structures for similar, if not identical, work at two factories just 15 Kms apart? That would be inevitable result of two different unions representing workers in two establishments. The situation in Maruti Udyog is akin to a man having two wives and getting caught in the cross fire.
The BIR Act which governed recognition of unions in textile industry provides the other extreme. It was so resented that we witnessed an industry wide strike that wiped off the textile industry in the city. Just as in the case of Maruti the unions are taking advantage of the law [or absence of it] to form separate unions, the situation in Mumbai’s textile industry was no different. It was nearly impossible to dislodge Rashtriya Mill Mazdoor Sangh as the representative union for the textile workers. This suited the ruling party, Congress. In fact, scrapping of the BIR Act also became one of the demands then.
So what should be done?
No law can ever cure such malaise. The eminent jurist, Nani Palkhiwala, while delivering a convocation address at XLRI argued that ‘Obedience to the unenforceable’ was the very essence of Industrial Relations. A code of conduct cannot be ‘enforced’, it must be willingly observed. This will surely sound philosophical, but if we are to have better industrial relations, there is no alternative.
Otherwise it will remain a story of industrial disputes and not industrial relations.
At the stage where our country is today, this is expected of both the parties, Managements and Unions. The Maruti Suzuki logo says ‘Count on us.’ Can we count on the management and workers of Maruti Suzuki to ‘obey the unenforceable’?