The invincible Hanuman in its name eludes Maruti

The invincible Hanuman in its name eludes Maruti

A top Haryana police officer draws a parallel of sorts describing the violent turn of events that struck Maruti Suzuki’s Manesar plant last week. He says the gory incident is like a servant turning around and stabbing his employer after being reprimanded for putting more salt in food. But, perhaps, the complexities surrounding the incident, and its aftershocks, are more intricate in nature than just put simply.

People from at least 100 villages around Manesar congregate, apprehensive that the strife-hit Maruti Suzuki plant may be shifted to Gujarat.The condemnable bloody incident at country’s largest car manufacturing company is as much about labour unrest going horribly haywire at the hands of a minority “militant workforce,”as it is about the mutable profile of the young blue-collar workforce in one of country’s arguably high priced Gurgaon-Manesar belt in the National Capital Region.

It’s a workforce that is in its second year of an ‘all-bitter’ relationship with the company management - its foundation based on a huge trust deficit with both workers and management encountering several bouts of strikes, disharmony and unrest since 2011. But, is it only to do with the unhealthy sentiment that has been  brewing between the warring factions since then.

Well, not entirely. Maruti’s Manesar workforce largely holds the dubious reputation of alleged notoriety. The Manesar plant has been the troublesome child for the company, while its other plants have remained free from unrest, barring the insignificant conflict of interests.

Unlike its plant in Gurgaon, the workforce at the Manesar plant is constituted by  a large many young, brash and impulsive workers, essentially on contract, in their early twenties. They live in Manesar, represent the hardcore Jatland and enjoy political patronage. Their association with the company has been short enough to dissuade any expectation of loyalty towards Maruti.

Industry experts say the workforce at Manesar plant, having grappled with labour unrest in a politically surcharged atmosphere with the backing of trade unions and politicians, now believes in resolving conflict situations by creating a conflict in the first place. A job at Maruti, they say, is seen just beyond a mere need.

Much has changed ever since Maruti started its operations out of a ‘cowshed’ in Gurgaon in Haryana in 1983. Gurgaon and Manesar are hot properties by any standard, with land prices skyrocketing. Many hamlets in the Manesar belt have fast turned into skyscrapers. Farmers have become rich overnight by selling their land to realty sharks. The posturing of workforce has changed, and these alterations have re-calibrated expectations even at the workplace.

Both the police and the company, for now, appear largely clueless on who and what orchestrated the violence, which claimed the life of the GM (HR) of the company. Facing allegations of protecting the perpetrators of the crime, the incident has dented the Haryana government’s credibility as an industrially progressive state and could impact potential investments.

It now remains to be seen how fast and how much the government acts to bring the guilty to justice. Chief Minister B S Hooda and Industry Minister Randeep Singh Surjewala maintain the government would ensure exemplary punishment to the people involved in last week’s mayhem. The CM said Maruti will remain in Haryana and in fact is investing more. He said investments in Haryana have grown over the years and not without a congenial atmosphere. Surjewala says, possibly, it was designed to breach peace in the industrial units across the state. “It is also not a labour unrest issue,”the minister argues.

The Maruti management too cannot be absolved of all liability. The company is accused of brewing discontent by dragging its feet on resolving workers issues, including the contentious issue of disparity in wages between contract and permanent workers. The presence of a huge workforce on contract at Maruti, nearly 40 per cent, provided a great degree of manoeuvrability for the management to its advantage. Contract workers are paid less than half the salary with more or less the same workload. Maruti’s attempts to build the trust deficit and communication with workers after last year’s agitation too failed.

Manesar vital for Maruti

Maruti does not see shifting out of Manesar as a viable option. Its unit in Manesar is the newest of all plants the company has and churns out two top-selling models in the Maruti stable - Swift and Dzire. At optimum production, the unit produces on an average 1,500 cars a day, which accounts for 40 per cent of Maruti’s overall production. A third unit near Manesar is also slated to be functional by next year-end with an investment of nearly Rs 2000 crore. If the crisis worsens, Maruti may rethink on investing this huge sum in Haryana.

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