Maruti Suzuki is in the news again. Two reports have been published in recent times on the Maruti Suzuki violence and its fallout.
The first report came from PUDR in May 2013, called ‘Driving Force.’ The second report ‘Merchants of Menace’ has just been published. It is prepared by International Commission for Labor Rights.
PUDR came in to existence and became PUDR in 1981 as their web site says. PUDR “has taken up hundreds of instances of violations of democratic rights, covering most parts of the country and involving the rights of many sections of society.”
The ICLR web site says ‘The International Commission for Labor Rights (ICLR) was started in 2002 by a group of lawyers from around the world, dedicated to supporting workers' and trade union rights. Confronted with the increasing difficulty of defending these rights in isolation in their own countries – as corporations, supply chains, investment, and workers themselves crossed international borders more and more – the lawyers resolved to create a network to enable them to share information and strategies.’
Did PUDR meet Maruti Suzuki management? The report says ‘In the course of our fact finding, we have met or spoken to the workers (contract, permanent and terminated), the union leaders, their lawyer as well as officials from the labour department, Gurgaon, and different police officials. All attempts to meet the management turned out to be futile because it did not give us appointment for a meeting despite our persistent efforts.’
Did ICLR meet Maruti Suzuki management? This is what they say, “These [meetings with CII and Assocham] were scheduled in lieu of an interview with the management of MSIL, since they refused to meet the group in spite of an extensive exchange of faxes and emails.
So Maruti Suzuki did not meet any of the representatives from PUDR and ICLR. What do you conclude? Was it the arrogance or fear at work? What did they have to hide?
Mind you, workers indulged in violence, so they should have been on defensive, but we find that Maruti Suzuki is on the defensive! Why?
Let us now shift focus on the Government’s attitude. I am quoting a para from ICLR’s report: The Joint Labour Commissioner also downplayed the significance of contract labour as an issue at MSIL in his discussion with the delegation. He insisted that the percentage of contract workers was very low – “no more than 10 per cent.” He also justified the contractualisation process at MSIL, and denied that it was taking place in violation of domestic law, which bars the use of contract labour in perennial and core areas of work. MSIL’s production model is dependent on a high level of ancillarisation, according to the JLC, and so material handling was a key task at its plants. In a strike that took place in 2000, the material handlers played an important role, since their refusal to place components on the assembly line brought production to a complete halt. MSIL broke the strike by having engineers check the materials at the ancillary facilities, thus bypassing the material handlers. This job is now permanently sub-contracted, and has led to other contract labor arrangements. However, the JLC denied that this is a prima facie violation of domestic law, explaining that, “It is important to question if material handling is a core or a non-core area of work.” It should be noted here that, while Indian courts have debated whether the operation of canteens, private security services or grounds keeping are “core” areas of work, and have sometimes permitted these functions to be outsourced, contracts for labor inputs such as those discussed in the case of the MSIL-Manesar material handlers have generally not been deemed legal.
However, an important employers’ association, the Confederation of Indian Industries (CII), did recognise the implications of contract labor, for workers’ and trade union rights in general. In an interview with the delegation, a CII leader tasked with industrial relations issues agreed that contract workers have no ability to bargain. He noted that, while they can technically form a union, there are many obstacles in practice. The CII also recognised that there are few regulations of labor contractors and the low standards and disjointed workforce that results from this practice “does not help anyone.”
What do you make of the Joint Labour Commissioner’s Statements? Can there be any conclusion other than that the Government machinery is ‘hand in glove’ with Maruti Suzuki?
Such insensitivity will go unpunished. The PUDR report is titled ‘Driving Force’ and ICLR’s report is titled ‘Merchants of Menace.’ Since Maruti Suzuki ‘Merchants’ are ‘driving’ the Government, nothing much will happen to alleviate the hardship of workers, it will only be a swan song!