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India declares Maruti workers' strike illegal

State government says it will abolish striking unions as car production grinds to a halt
Maruti strikeEnlarge
Indian private security guards stand in front of the main gate of the Maruti Suzuki Production Facility in Manesar, about 45 kms from New Delhi on June 16, 2011. (MANAN VATSYAYANA/AFP/Getty Images)

The north Indian state of Haryana declared a month-long strike by plant workers at Maruti-Suzuki illegal on Wednesday and asked them to return control of the company's Manesar factory to the company, but a day later the strike shows no sign of abating even as the government threatens to abolish the two workers' unions at the heart of the dispute.

"The workers are still on strike and there is no production at the plant," a company spokesperson said, according to India's Economic Times newspaper.

Simultaneous strikes by workers at Suzuki Powertrain India Ltd (SPIL) and Suzuki Motorcycle India Pvt Ltd (SMIPL) in support of their colleagues at MSI are also still underway, the paper said.

Yesterday, the Haryana Labour Department had declared the strike by MSI workers illegal and said it breached a settlement agreement signed on October 1 to end a 33-day-long standoff, the Economic Times reported.  

FirstPost gives a good account of the conditions at the plant, which has been plagued by labor disputes since early this summer, as workers are demanding better working conditions and equal status for contract laborers who are otherwise denied many union benefits.  At issue as well is the future of unions in India's fast growing automotive industry, as Maruti-Suzuki is essentially seeking to eliminate independent unions, according to the workers. 

FirstPost reports:

“This is the fifth day (the strike enters its seventh day today) that we’ve spent inside. According to the agreement with the management on 1 October, it was understood that all employees would be allowed to resume work. However, only permanent employees were allowed to enter the plant and our brothers (referring to the 1200 contract workers on are a dharna outside the premises) were not allowed.”

Of course, that's five days that the workers have been holding the plant hostage.  Strikes have been going on much longer.

The stand-off between the workers of Maruti Suzuki’s Manesar plant is only the latest in what has been an extremely acrimonious last couple of months. This is third strike since June.

The strikes and stoppage of production have hit the company hard. “The problems we have had since June has cost us 51,000 cars which translates to loss of turnover worth Rs 1500 crore,” said a company official speaking to Firstpost. The Haryana government on Tuesday issued a breach of settlement notice to the Maruti Suzuki workers

Rs 1500 crore -- or 15 billion rupees -- translates to about $300 million.

The heart of the conflict is the issue of establishing a second workers union to represent the Maruti’s Manesar plant workers.

Maruti has another plant at Gurgaon. “In December, the management said that there would be union elections. When the workers who wanted to contest were discouraged by the management and mentally tortured and harassed. Until June, no elections happened. The management does not want to hold elections here.

“We then decided that we should have another union that will represent the welfare of Manesar plant workers. On 3 June, we applied for the registration of the Maruti Suzuki Employees Union at Chandigarh,” said Sunil (a striking worker).

The next day, says Sunil, the management got signatures from about 600 employees that stated that they were happy with the existing Maruti Udyog Kaamgaar Union. “When we protested, false cases were lodged against us. The cases were not taken back, and we were forced to go on strike. It lasted 13 days.”

The company says the "union issue" has been resolved and denies workers' claims that their second strike resulted because of a company lockout.  But it doesn't seem the two sides are getting any closer to an agreement.

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatches/globalpost-blogs/the-rice-bowl/india-declares-maruti-workers-strike-illegal