STATISTICS from the Labour Bureau show that the number of strikes, disputes and lockouts has been coming down steadily over the years. From 456 in 2005, they were down to 345 in 2009 and after a slight rise in the next two years, again fell to 229 in 2012. In the nine months to November 2013, the number was 149. Consequently, industry has lost fewer man days. The data would suggest that relations between managements and workers are becoming more cordial, which is probably by and large true.
However, there has been a fair bit of unrest at the plants of automobile manufacturers and their vendors across the country. For instance, in March-April 2013, workers at Mahindra and Mahindra’s Nashik plant went on a tool-down strike over wage negotiations and suspension of some workers.
The worst incident in recent history was clearly the one at the Maruti factory in Manesar in 2012 where an HR executive lost his life and 100 injured. The continuing dispute between the management and workers at Bajaj Auto is also worrying. While the scale of disruption across units has been varied — the problem at the Toyota Kirloskar plant in Bidadi, Karnataka, for instance, was resolved fairly quickly — the demands have related mainly to higher wages. On occasion, recognition of unions became an issue.
At Hero Motocorp’s Gurgaon plant, workers pressed for higher wages, asking for a hike of R18,000 on an average base of R46,000, but finally settled for an increase of R9,000. At Bajaj Auto, although the management has offered to increase wages by R10,000, workers are looking for far more: Among their demands is 500 shares of the company each for just R1. Unfortunately, the case is now in court although the decision of the unions to defer the stoppage of work at the Chakan plant might result in the dispute being resolved.
It’s not surprising that with unions at times irresponsible, managements are looking for workers to individually make commitments; Toyota Kirloskar had asked workers to sign separate undertakings. The unions need to recognise that workers in the auto sector are relatively well compensated — CMIE data show costs for auto sector employee rose 3.3 times over the decade, compared with 3.1 times for the overall manufacturing sector.