Maruti Suzuki India Ltd. has been having a harrowing time since Wednesday when about 3,000workers rioted, leaving a senior manager dead, more than 100 people injured, and part of thepremises charred.
The incident renewed global concern about workers’ violence at industries in India, especially in
the automotive sector, and at Maruti in particular.
India’s largest car maker by volume was wracked by labor unrest for much of last year at its
plant at Manesar, in the northern state of Haryana. But a nearby plant at Gurgaon, a suburb of New Delhi, has been functioning relatively smoothly.Underlying the tension at the Manesar plant has been a year of strained relations, especiallybetween managers and the new Maruti union, whose leaders have been accused by the car maker
of instigating Wednesday’s violence.
Labor woes at the facility, located about 50 kilometers from New Delhi, date back to June 2011when workers halted all activity, demanding recognition fro
m Maruti’s management of their
newly-formed Maruti Suzuki Employees Union. Workers had pressed for a union that, they said,
fairly represents them and functions independently from the one at Maruti’s Gurgaon plant,
which they claim is pro-management.A 10-day agitation then ended after the management agreed to take back 11 workers who were
sacked for disciplinary reasons. The company, however, didn’t agree to recognize the new
Manesar union. In August, Maruti asked workers from Manesar to sign a so-
conduct bond” after the company found what it claimed were “serious and deliberate” quality
problems in cars made at the plant. Workers were prevented from entering the factory beforethey signed the bond, leading to an impasse that lasted more than a month.The workers at Manesar finally relented, signed the bond, only to re-organize their protestswithin the factory premises. Production was stalled for another two weeks. Their principaldemand was recognition for the union though they also called for the reinstatement of more firedworkers.The strike ended on Oct. 21 only after intervention from the Haryana state government.
As part of a tripartite agreement between Maruti’s management, the workers’ union and the
Haryana government, Maruti agreed to take back 64 suspended workers but continued its inquiryagainst 30 other suspended employees.The 30 workers who remained under suspension included two of the top office bearers of theMaruti Suzuki Employees Union, Sonu Gujjar and Shiv Kumar. In November, The EconomicTimes reported that Maruti paid Mr. Gujjar and Mr. Kumar 4 million rupees ($72,365) to leavethe company. The report also alleged that the remaining 28 expelled workers were asked to quittheir jobs in exchange for 1.6 million rupees each.On Saturday, R. C. Bhargava, chairman of Maruti, said the 30 workers took voluntary retirementbut declined to elaborate. Sonu Gujjar and Shiv Kumar have been unavailable for comment sincelast year.