Gurgaon: The fire which scorched the Maruti's Manesar plant has been burning for some time now. It started with increasing demand for diesel cars that led to higher bookings. Production at the assembly line was stepped up to keep pace leading to discontent. There have been three crippling strikes last year due to labour unrest. Chief among the issues were pay differences between permanent and casual workers, demand for better working conditions and the gap between expectations of Indian workers and the discipline and mindset demanded by the Japanese management.
Contract workers Harsh and Arun, working at this factory for over 4 years, aren't happy with the way they have been treated. Despite promises, the wage disparity between permanent and temporary employees is unresolved. A permanent employee earns about Rs 18,000 a month, while a contract labourer gets Rs 5000, despite working for similar hours apart from losing out on other benefits like medical and transport. In an eight-hour work shift, workers get a 30-minute lunch break and 7.5-minute tea breaks. Another sticky point is the steep cuts in compensation for absenteeism.
Refuting the allegations, Maruti says this is not an "industrial relations" problem in the nature of management-worker differences over issues of wages or working conditions. In a statement the company said "It is an orchestrated act of mob violence at a time when operations had been normal over the past many months."
Labour unrest is common in Manesar. But the bigger question is - is Maruti's work force increasingly becoming the victim of union politics, militant local workers and their aspiration for a better pays and working conditions? Untill some of these issues are resolved; such incidents will keep on repeating.