The Bajaj Auto strike is getting interesting for the students of employee relations. The latest development in the story is that the union has complained to the Labour Commissioner regarding use of trainees as regular workers, in other words, alleging that the company was misusing the ‘Learn and Earn’ scheme for full time production. They have alleged violation of Labour laws in this aspect.
The fact is that the relations with employees are strained. Issuing Company shares to employees at a throw away price is not the issue in contest. Nobody is now even talking about it. Those who have read our earlier blog post will see that the real issue is something else. Mistrust, suspicion are the basis of this relationship today.
To my mind, the roots are in the history. Bajaj Auto abruptly closed its Akurdi unit. The issue got resolved through intervention of Sharad Pawar. Memories of those days are fresh in the minds of people as yet. It is true that Chakan employees were not involved then, but a dispute of that nature and scale leaves its indelible mark. It creates a certain image of the employer which as we understand Bajaj did nothing to erase. People respond to the image, particularly in a large organisation like Bajaj Auto.
There is a news report which suggests that other auto industry workers are likely to show sympathy by resorting to a token strike or at least support them. This, if done, will take the agitation on a higher scale. The common fear is that what happens at Bajaj might happen to them.
The ‘Earn and Learn scheme’ is one of the most misused schemes. Effectively it allows labour at cheap rate to employers under the garb of training. It is alleged that it involves vested interests of a Minister in the Govt. of Maharashtra. I am given to understand that the unions have already taken this to the court and in the case of Bajaj; they have initiated the process certainly.
Auto industry in India is getting attention of international unions. The Shramik Ekta Mahasangh launched by unions in Pune is affiliated to IndustriALL Global Union, in which International Metalworkers Federation merged. Readers of this blog will recall that recently an international delegation visited Maruti Suzuki and published a report ‘Merchants of Menace.’
The international delegation [of International International Commission for Labor Rights] is supported by IndustriALL Global Union. This means that the Government will not be able to keep quiet if the situation goes out of control. In Manesar it was a willing accomplice as the report says, but doing it in Pune is not going to be easy. Particularly so when elections seem to be on the anvil.
Even so, the dice at this juncture seems to be loaded against the workers. Clearly the parties are on a collision path. Political intervention will only bring about a truce. But as any student of conflict management knows, the parties start collecting ammunition for the next battle as the one on hand ends.
To break out of this vicious cycle requires a will, and great leadership. Time will tell whether or not Bajaj Auto has it.