Industrialisation has a bloody history of battles between workers and owners. Are the riots in an India car plant a re-run of industrial history?
At least 90 people have been arrested after violent clashes between workers and managers at a Maruti Suzuki factory near the Indian capital, Delhi. A senior factory official died and more than 85 were injured, including two Japanese nationals in the riot. Maruti, India’s biggest car maker, has halted production at the factory.
The blame game
Managers and workers blame each other for starting the clashes, which follow months of troubled labour relations. The violence at the vast factory in Haryana state is believed to have erupted after an altercation between a factory worker and a supervisor.
Workers reportedly ransacked offices and set fires at the height of the violence. It escalated when they tried to take disciplinary action against the employee as other workers protested and blocked all exit gates, preventing senior executives and managers from leaving the factory. The union denied responsibility for the violence and told local media that it was triggered by “objectionable remarks” made by the supervisor.
Leniency a reason for the riots?
The Times of india suggested leniency towards Union bosses was ‘reason for rift among staff’
it appears now that the management of the auto giant may have made a major miscalculation in handling a labour incident only weeks before violence broke out in the factory. [Union leaders were treated in a more lenient way than workers after aggression towards a supervisor].
Meanwhile, the plant remains closed. The company maintains that it is giving high priority to employee safety and is considering several initiatives to scale up safety in the Manesar plant. “In this direction, the company is exploring the best safety measures in terms of equipment, personnel and on ground training for the employees,” the company said in a statement.
The act of unprovoked violence [on July 18th 2012, but July 21st according to some news reports] started without any specific industrial relations issue.
A backdrop of financial losses
The story occurred against a backdrop of losses attributed to increased royalties to Suzuki.
The main reason for the fall was a rise in royalty payments to Japan’s Suzuki, which holds a large stake in Maruti. Analysts said the increase would also affect the carmaker’s future earnings.one observing: “Raw material costs have been easing but the effect of higher royalty payments will be there in the next few quarters”.
Outside of the increased payments to Suzuki, Maruti performed well during the quarter, “The sudden change in royalty charge overshadows an otherwise strong operating performance,” said Chirag Shah at Emkay Global Financial Services.
A similar pattern of violence
Reuters reported [6th August 2012] that other foreign owned car makers such as Hyundai, and Honda have also experienced troubles at their plants in recent years.
“This is definitely sending a wrong message. Investors will be reluctant,” P. Balendran, vice-president at General Motors’ Indian unit, said of the Manesar violence. “The need of the hour is flexible labour reforms. In 2012 you cannot afford to have a rule which is applicable … from 1956.”
A bone of contention
India’s labour laws, some dating to the 1920s, make it difficult for large companies to fire permanent workers, forcing companies to hire large numbers of contractors – a bone of contention with many unions.
“We knew that something of this sort might happen sooner or later,” said Balendran. “It happened to Suzuki today, tomorrow it could happen to us.”
Regardless of the reported stringency of India’s labour laws, the company plans to make 500 employees redundant and will re-open the plant shortly [August 21st 2012]. The challenges to leadership are likely to continue.