Maruti strike a lesson for Indian companies

Tuesday 25 October 2011, 19:58 PM by Vikas Yogi

As the unrest that erupted at Maruti Suzuki's Manesar plant long time back still haunts the frantic camp now and then, other companies now feel the need to focus immensely upon building strong relations with their workers.

Moreover, at the time when most companies are struggling to boost up sales by stringent cost-cutting measures, and desperately trying to survive the cut-throat competition, sorting out the worker management issues becomes all the more relevant . The worker strike is said to have cost Maruti Suzuki around Rs. 1,500 crore. Maruti is not the only company that is bearing the brunt of strikes in recent times.

Maruti strike a lesson for Indian companies | CarTrade.com
Maruti strike

Over the last two years, there have grave incidents of labour unrest in Bosch's Bangalore unit, Moser Baer's Noida plant and the respective Chennai facilities of Hyundai and Nokia.

Santrupt Misra, Chief Executive Officer, Carbon Black Business & Director, group HR, Aditya Birla Management Corporation says, "Each industrial relations issue is unique in content and the way it plays out. In that sense, it's hard to straitjacket solutions as best practices. No two issues are exactly identical."

Five years back, Hindustan Unilever Limited faced some worker issues at its Bombay Factory undertaking in Sewri. The labour commissioner, Maharashtra, directed the company to pay wages to its workmen till their date of retirement without working, while granting permission for the closure of the factory. Subsequently, a settlement was arrived between the erstwhile union of Bombay Factory and the management.

"We remain committed for investing in people by providing them necessary inputs. The same can be judged by the fact that 11 workers were promoted on merits to management cadre," says Akhilesh Goel, Plant Director, Mohali Lighting Factory, Philips India.

Notwithstanding best efforts, there are times when conflicts are unavoidable. "It happens due to failure of timely action by the management sometimes. Sometimes it is due to struggle for power and influence between and within trade unions. Sometimes there are fundamental perspective differences," says AV Birla group's Misra.

In Maruti's case, a demand by a few workers for setting up a new union was unacceptable to the management and which led to the unrest. "Labour problems always start like small flames, which later become a fire. It is important that the supervisor be sensitive to the grievances of the workers before the matter escalates into a conflict,'' says K.A. Narayan, President, HR, Raymond, which has 15 units across India.

"Since 2007, man-hours lost due to IR unrest have come down from 50,000 man-days a year to near NIL man-days. Successful restructuring of six units was done very swiftly and without any ER (employee relations) turbulence," said a Hindustan Unilever Limited Spokesperson.