[The strike at Maruti Suzuki has
brought into attention many issues in Industrial relations. This is the third
post in the series that discusses the issues. Here are the links to the first post
and the second post.]
The report appearing in the
Economic Times of India [Oct 17, 2011] makes an interesting reading as it
addresses to the central issue: What widened the divide between the workers and
Here is an excerpt: “The strategic decision to squeeze out
maximum possible efficiency from existing plants didn't trickle down smoothly
to the shop floor. Striking workers complain about abusive behaviour and even
instances of slapping by supervisors, charges the company denies. Workers say
the conditions at the Manesar plant were too stringent, while the management
can't seem to comprehend the difficulty as the Gurgaon plant has operated under
identical conditions for more than 25 years now.”
The reference to ‘squeezing our maximum possible efficiency’ comes because
Maruti Suzuki found that they were in a situation where demand for the cars was
outrunning the production capacity. So steps were taken to enhance the production
efficiencies. These were resented by workers; but such measures were
operational at Gurgaon plant so the management could not understand the
resistance of workers.
This raises some interesting
issues: Firstly, we have to appreciate that workers, like all of us, have a ‘view’
on how work should be done. So a change needs to be explained and communicated
Secondly, the workers of a new plant dislike being compared with workers
at the older [or any other] plant. ‘Do this, look they are doing it, why don’t
you do it?’ does not work well. The acceptance of such changes is always a
problem. The workers want to discuss their work with their supervisors, not
somebody else’s work. But usually the managements are in a hurry and do not
have time for elaborate dialogue.
Thirdly, almost all new units
begin on an excellent industrial relations note; but somewhere along the road
the relationships sore. Maruti Suzuki had ushered in a great era of good manufacturing
practices. In seminars, speakers often talked about ‘how it happens in Maruti’s
plants.’ They brought in a tsunami of ‘Japanese Management style,’ in Indian
industry. There are many people who have seen workers of Maruti making excellent
presentations at a time when many managers were still learning PowerPoint.
There were problem-solving techniques, quality circles, workers visiting plants
in Japan and so on. The Maruti way was held in awe by many a people.
It is interesting how these healthy
relationships in a new plant sore over a period and what causes them to go bad.
This experience, I believe, is not unique to Maruti – it happens almost everywhere.
One of the popular beliefs is
that the managers get increasingly arrogant and ‘controlling.’ This needs an explanation
– when you set up a factory, you recruit new workers and train them. The
interactions are very high and so is [usually] the sensitivity. The new workers
have found a job in a good organisation which is a rarity; companies like
Maruti train them very well so they see ‘value-add.’ Workers at this stage
readily accept the supervision and show willingness to do any task assigned. There
is a sense of pride at this juncture which overtakes all negatives. This situation
requires very little people management skill. Arrogance and ‘controlling’ gradually
grows and frictions start. It is important to note that the workers have
complained of ‘slapping’ and ‘abusive’ language. This is not at all an unusual
incident. Korean managers of a company were also accused of similar
misbehaviour. Workers get labelled ‘union minded.’ The situation is ripe now
for a conflict to set equations right.
And when a conflict erupts, both
the parties wish to set all seemingly ‘wrong’ things right.
This is not as if the managers
are to be blamed entirely for the situation. The point I am making is that a
worker is very receptive initially but turns antagonistic later.
When a new plant is commissioned
[like Manesar] the HR policies get tested. Where the workers are recruited
young, they have boundless energy that can turn against the employer when not
given adequate creative channels. Usually this is ignored. Some organisations
in the South India have tried to overcome this problem by recruiting as a
matter of policy, workers in all age groups up to 35-40 years. The presence of
workers in higher age group, according to them, has a sobering effect on the
younger workforce. [There is no evidence that this actually happens, but then
managers so often follow their own pet theories!]. Such problems are inherent in
the policies. Supportive actions have to be taken. But inability to see deeper problems
makes managers attribute motives to the other party which is a recipe for
The entire situation is akin to the
relationship between a father and his son – at young age the sons listen, and
later they assert their freedom to do a lot of things, and demand space. When a
son comes of age, his father is supposed to treat him like a friend.
Hidden in this metaphor is perhaps
one of the answers to the problem.