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Over a year and a half after the union leaders of Maruti Suzuki’s Manesar plant were put in jail following a violent clash with executives, workers at the car market leader’s second factory will elect their representatives for the first time early next month. Workers at Maruti’s first plant at Gurgaon will also hold an election for their own union on April 26.
Formed in mid-2011 after a 13-day strike by workers demanding a union independent from the Gurgaon plant, Maruti’s Manesar plant union — Maruti Suzuki Workers’ Union (MSWU) — represents around 1,000 permanent workers employed across three production lines. The Manesar plant employs around 1,800 temporary staff and 500 apprentices. Meanwhile, the carmaker’s Gurgaon plant union — Maruti Udyog Kamgar Union — represents around 2,500 permanent workers. The Gurgaon plant also employs a further 4,000 contract workers and 700 apprentices.
“The nomination process by all members of the union has already started and the election date is likely to be April 4 for the Manesar plant. The election will be organised completely by the state labour department while the company will help by providing space and other requisites,” a person close to the development told FE.
A Maruti Suzuki spokesperson, however, declined to comment, citing that union elections do not have any company involvement apart from a facilitating role.
Maruti’s 600-acre Manesar plant, which started operations in 2007, has seen a spate of labour problems in the last few years. In 2011, from June to October, workers went on strike three times over various issues beginning with demands for recognition of a union and better facilities and pay for contract workers.
On July 18, 2012, a violent clash at the facility left a senior HR official dead and close to 100 other executives, including Japanese expats, injured. The incident led the plant to be closed for a month, the firing of over 500 permanent workers and around 150 put in jail including MSWU president Ram Mehar Singh and general-secretary Sarabjit Singh — these leaders were appointed directly and not elected.
The company still has not been able to get clear answers to the reasons for the 2012 clash, but after the incident it has decided to slowly do away with contract labour and work on improving the management-worker connect.
Maruti chairman RC Bhargava told FE recently, “The special investigation team of Gurgaon police could not find any real reasons for the clash. There were bad elements; this is not a normal labour problem. Ultimately, it is a question of trust and confidence being built between management and workers, that both are working towards the same objective of strengthening the company.”
Maruti Suzuki, which commands over a 40% share of India's 27-lakh-unit passenger vehicle market, saw its volumes rise almost 1% to 9.51 lakh units in April-February FY14. India's auto market has been slowing down for over two years, with car sales posting their lowest growth in a decade.
The Maruti Suzuki scrip closed up 0.03% on the BSE at Rs 1,935.70 on Friday.