I have so far written more than six blog posts on Maruti
Suzuki and its employee relations. A recent report in newspaper [Economic Times: ‘Labour
relations: How Maruti is trying to win back workers' trust’ Apr 1, 2014] brings
some issues to the fore.
To put it in a nutshell, the
story goes like this: Maruti Suzuki [MSL for short] had hired too many contract
workers and we all know what happened – violence at their Manesar Plant. MSL
decided not to engage contract labour and is reportedly reducing the number of
contract labour. They are not appointing permanent workers but appointing temporary
workers. They are called ’Company Temps.’ To quote the report “Company temps,
described so as to give a sense of 'company's own', are deployed for six months
at a stretch and then given a break of five months. They are called back for
another round of six months, if required, in keeping with the market
conditions, giving the company a great deal of flexibility.” [Unquote].
So work is not temporary. Workers
are! What justifies termination of employment after six months and employing
another lot of workers in their place? You will readily see that there is no
When I spoke to auto workers in
Pune they told me that workers had to do six or seven ‘periods’ [meaning terms
of six month employment] before getting confirmed as permanent workers in Tata
Motors. [They also alleged rampant corruption in the process, and even told me ‘rates’
of payment to get permanent status.]
We are aware that this is a
common industry practice. We have also seen that the work in such cases
continues, although the worker suffers termination of his employment. There are
several cases which have clearly defined the legal position on this issue: “If
contractual employment is resorted to as a mechanism to frustrate the claim of
the employee to become regular or permanent against a job which continues, or
the nature of duties is such that the colour of contractual agreement is given
to take it from Sec 2 (oo), then such agreement cannot be regarded as fair or
bona fide.” This view was taken by a Division bench of Allahabad High Court in Shailendra
Nath Shukla v Vice Chancellor, Allahabad Univ, by Bombay high Court in Dilip
Hanumantrao Shirke v Zilla Parishad, Yavatmal etc. There are many other
cases on this point too, all in support of the interpretation given above.
There are many issues here:
Firstly, we have to understand that
this is a devious device of employers to circumvent the law. One cannot indulge
in practices which are in breach of law. The devious practice is unpardonable,
and cannot be justified on any ground, including that of business expediency.
Secondly, Unions have failed to
raise a voice. The jury is out on whether they are hand in glove with the
managements of the companies. This also could be due to unions losing power.
But unions are mostly run by permanent workers and they are oblivious to the wider
issues of labour in general. Prevalence of employing 70% [sometimes more]
contract labour tells the same story.
Thirdly, the sheer insensitivity
or negligence of the Government is shocking. There is a merit in the employers’
case that given the current business scenario with its frequent ups and downs
and with international competition, unlike in the past, they need greater
flexibility in managing workforce. Even the so called permanent workers lose
their jobs through VRS when industry suffers long periods of recession. Laws have
become irrelevant. They make little sense given the realities of business and
will get flouted, such is the experience everywhere. Pontificating ‘Industry
must abide by the law of the land’ without showing appreciation of the genuine
problems of the industry will not work.
Having said that I would like to
put some more thoughts for consideration. Is it okay for so called ‘professionally
managed’ companies which show [?] concern about governance issues, like MSL, to
indulge in such objectionable practice? Can MSL claim this to be a practice
conforming to ‘ethical values?’
Reverting to the newspaper story
[you can read it here] which claims that Maruti is winning the trust of its employees,
one can only say that one would have expected an innovative and legally
compliant way from Maruti Suzuki.
Labels: Contract Labour, Maruti Suzuki, Tata Motors, Temporary workers, Temps, Unfair Labour Practice