Posted On Saturday, July 21, 2012 at 08:23:39 AM
|Like Rashomon there are multiple versions of the ‘truth’
The Maruti Suzuki plant in Manesar is about five years old. It produces almost 2,000 vehicles daily. These include the current hot selling diesel models of Swift and DZire. Maruti is a very important part of Suzuki Motor Corporation of Japan. It contributes one third of Suzuki’s global pre-tax profit.
Suzuki is Japan’s second largest maker of compact cars. It manufactures more cars in India than in Japan. Maruti was undisputed king among automakers for a long time since its inception in 1981.
Even today it has a market share of 54%. It launched the automobile revolution in India, and even ignited the bull run in India’s stock market in 2003, when it was listed on the stock exchange.
Five years ago the Government of India sold its remaining shares to Suzuki, making Maruti a purely private, and substantially foreign owned company. It had once set the standard not only in quality and after sales service, but also management practices, innovation, distribution and most importantly bonhomie between workers and officers.
Stories of Japanese management practices and “quality circles” are part of Maruti folklore. It is hence particularly unfortunate that Maruti has been in the news for worker unrest, strikes and lockout. During 2011 the Manesar factory was shut down for 33 days due to a strike.
The loss in output was about Rs 1,500 crore. The company also lost value in the stock market. Eventually peace was brokered between workers and management by Haryana government, which included wage settlement as well as signing a “good conduct” bond by workers.
There were other work stoppages during the year as well. There were accusations of deliberate work sabotage by workers, and counter accusations of anti-worker policies by management. This week that conflict manifested rather nastily. Thousands of workers went on a rampage burning and destroying property in the factory, and attacking senior officials.
It happened around the time when there is change of shift, so worker strength was almost double. There is evidence that workers targeted management whose offices are on the mezzanine level in the Manesar plant. Hundreds of people, including officers and workers were injured, and the General Manager of Human Resources died of suffocation.
His limbs were broken before he died. It can be said that he was a victim of mob violence, but in another sense it was murder. This was not the first time that a factory based manager has been killed by workers, and that too in Haryana.
The workers’ version is that the spontaneous rage was caused by a caste slur thrown by a manager. This version is being denied. Politicians are already in the fray. Others are seeing conspiracy already, of unsettling industrialization in Haryana. Like Rashomon, there are multiple versions of the “truth”. The police threaten to detain all the workers for questioning.
But this incident raises many questions: (a) is it possible for an industrial activity to have large scale peaceful employment relations in modern India? (few years ago there was another murder at Pricol, a Coimbatore based auto components factory). (b) how much of the conflict is a consequence of mingling contract workers with permanent workers? Is the compulsion of hiring contract workers caused by rigid labour laws? (c) How much did the “caste” angle matter in the bloody incident? Is the shop floor a cesspool of casteism, and urban /industrial image of “caste free” workplaces merely an illusion? (d) are increasing worker management conflicts inevitable due to the industrial downturn? (look at increasing worker unrest in China) (e) can higher wages, and better sharing of profits mitigate conflict?
Maruti stands for promise and hope of India’s global rise as the hub of the small car for the world. It shouldn’t be allowed to symbolize conflict and unrest.
• Man of ideas
This refers to Ajit Ranade’s column ‘STD booths to Wi-Fi hotspots’, (PM, July 14). Ranade is a man of ideas. Besides being analytical, Ranade has always shown tremendous imagination in all his articles.
A few months back he had suggested brilliant ways to meet Mumbai’s space demand. Later a solution for transparent toll booths . Now he has suggested transformation of the STD booths into Wi-Fi hotspots.
I think STD booths still have good business prospects. It will take another decade for all the mobile users to switch to video calls. Also the handsets supporting video calls are still beyond the reach of a large number of peoples and the tariff for 3G services remains an issue.
- Alistair James