Double standards by Maruti Suzuki led to the recent violent conflict at Manesar plant
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As the Manesar plant of Maruti Suzuki faces a lockout, the buzz is that the top honchos failed to handle a labour incident properly just weeks before the conflict. Around two months ago, President of the Workers' Union, Ram Meher was suspended by the company on grounds of misbehaviour with his supervisor. While, Meher and another executive member of the Union, Ram Bilas were let off the hook after an oral apology, the company resorted to disciplinary proceedings against an ordinary worker involved in similar incident.
This attitude adopted by the company was the sole drive behind the fury of the workers. With several workers complaining of double standards being adopted by Maruti Suzuki, the difference in treatments meted out to an ordinary worker and union office bearers have affected the morale of the workers. Following with the scuffle between the ordinary worker, Jia Lal and supervisor, Ram Kishore, Maruti Suzuki’s action of suspending Lal and taking disciplinary actions towards the worker turned into the main cause for violent conflict. The conflict ended up claiming life of a Senior HR executive and leaving 96 others employees injured.
Maruti Suzuki follows a strict protocol in case of labour disputes, which involve a warning to the worker at fault, followed by an entry in charge-sheet. Further on, the worker is provided with a chance to prove his innocence, which upon failing results in suspension of the respective worker. After a detailed investigation of the case, the matter lies with the company whether to retain or fire the worker based on the results of investigation. According to the employees, the protocol was ignored in case of Ram Meher and he was retained after a simple apology.
The car maker defended its actions in case of Union office bearing employees saying that their retaining was based on the goodwill of both the workers. Maruti Suzuki told Economic Times, “Two workers were suspended in May 2012. Subsequently, after discussions with the Union and based on their verbal assurance, the suspensions were revoked. This was to give them an opportunity towards building a positive and participative work environment, as a goodwill response from the management.” A company spokesperson further added, “In our thinking there is no linkage of these incidents. However the Special Investigation Team of Haryana Police should be able to formulate a view on this.”
Maruti Suzuki did not keep up with the agreement signed between the workers and company at the time of setting up the Works Committee and the Grievance Committee. The committees, which are a part of October 19, 2011 agreement, are yet to be formed. Had these committees been formed already, it would have resulted in increased trust of the workers.
According to the Maruti Suzuki spokesperson, “MSIL management made its best efforts to convince the workers' union to nominate their representatives, even requesting support from the District Labour Commissioner Office, Gurgaon. But the workers representatives vehemently opposed the formation of the two committees. We have even finalised and nominated management representatives on both the committees.”
As of now, the car maker remains undecided on the commencement of production procedure at its Manesar plant. According to company, its foremost priority is to ensure safety of workers, which is the direction the company is heading towards with several initiatives being considered to notch up the safety at the facility. As per the company statement, “In this direction, the company is exploring the best safety measures in terms of equipment, personnel and on ground training for the employees.” The car maker is now banking on the results of Haryana Police investigation on the case, which is expected to end in few days before taking any further actions.
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