Real Jobs At Stake

  • Abhishek Behl / FG
  • India
  • Sep 21, 2012

Scenario 1: Industrial relations in West Bengal in the 1970s turned from bad to worse, as the then government failed to rein in both the workers as well as industry. The trade unions adopted an increasingly militant attitude, even as managements preferred lock-outs to negotiations. This ultimately led to a situation where the majority of the companies in West Bengal left the state and shifted their plants – leaving behind an industrial wasteland.

Scenario 2: Trade union leader Datta Samant led the textile mills strikes in the 1980s in Mumbai, effectively leading to a situation where the workers and managements did not come to terms with each other. With both sides hardening their stance, the textile industry shifted from Mumbai, effectively killing the local industry. The State, in this situation, hardly played a role.


Both these scenarios have relevance to the industrial relations in the state of Haryana, because the important industrial belts of Gurgaon, Manesar, and Faridabad are witnessing an undercurrent of tension, due to the workers’ unrest prevailing in the area. Trade Union leaders, as well as industrial relations experts, aver that if the government does not handle the issue wisely, it could take a serious turn, badly affecting the future of industry in the State.

The inability of the labour department to implement the labour laws in a fair manner, and act as an impartial arbitrator in labour disputes, is increasingly being questioned. “We want the State government to act in a balanced manner. The State should not take sides, and do whatever is being told by company managements,” says S.K Yadav, a General Secretary of the Indian National Trade Union Congress (INTUC), an organisation that is part of the Congress, and works closely with the government.

In the industrial corridors of Gurgaon, the struggle between the workers and industry is increasingly being seen as a fight between the working class and the capitalists, in which the government is seen on the side of the rich and the powerful. Comrade Sarabjit Singh, General Secretary of Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU), says that while industries are being run with 21st century technology, the business mindset of the owners and management is of the 15th century. “The workers are clearly seen as just a cost, and no one considers them as an integral part of the organisation. Increasing ‘contractorisation’ has further eroded the class character of the workers, and they do not have any identity of their own,” says Singh.

Workers and trade union leaders are particularly unhappy with the manner in which the crisis at Maruti has been handled by the state government. It is being alleged that a criminal act committed by a group of individuals is being used by the management and state government to browbeat the workers. The workers are demanding a judicial inquiry into the incident so that the entire matter is investigated in a proper manner.

B.D Pahuja, who has long been associated with the trade union movement in Gurgaon, says that most of the labour disputes in Gurgaon have taken place because of the failure of the labour officials to act. “The manner in which 546 workers have been sacked in Maruti is patently wrong, and this will create more trouble in future,” says Pahuja.

There are at least 5 lakh industrial workers in and around Gurgaon, and most of them are living and working in pathetic conditions. The state has absolved itself of its duty to provide accommodation to industrial workers, as well as training, education, and medical facilities (like ESI hospitals), alleges Sarabjit Singh. A majority of the workers live in urbanised villages, where the living conditions are akin to slums; the cost of living has increased manifold, and eking out a livelihood is increasingly becoming difficult.

The consistent failure of the labour department to implement labour laws – that include payment of wages on time, stopping misuse of contract labour, proper rest to workers, and improvement in living and working conditions is creating a situation where the workers are getting restive. The inability of the political leadership to punish the labour officials, and check rampant corruption in the department, has also added to the deteriorating work environment. The Minimum Wage Advisory Board has not been constituted for years, the workers do not get I-Cards, ESI cards, and there is an increasing number of contract workers. The Worker Welfare Boards have also been non-performing, and have siphoned off lakhs of rupees in the name of welfare activities, alleges S.K Yadav of INTUC.

 The violence in Maruti was a result of the pent-up frustration of workers, who failed to get any reliable concession from both the management and the government. As of now peace is being maintained using police pressure, and the workers are being harassed,” says Imran, a sacked worker, who was dismissed (among the 546 workers).

The sacked workers and their families are going to hold a massive rally on September 21 in Gurgaon, says Imran. “We have the support of the trade unions as well as workers across Gurgaon and Manesar. This rally, for the first time, will see family members coming forward to protest,” he asserts.

Earlier, on August 17, representatives of the All India Trade Union Congress (AITUC), CITU, Bhartiya Mazdoor Sangh (BMS), Hind Mazdoor Sabha (HMS), All India United Trade Union Centre (AIUTUC), All India Central Council of Trade Unions (AICCTU) and Maruti Udyog Kamgar Union (MUKU) held a rally in support of these workers.

The sacked workers are demanding that the government stop the harassment of those who are innocent, and have not committed any crime in the factory. An open FIR has been registered against all 546 workers, whereby the police can pick and detain any of them without any question. “Some of the workers who were on leave on July 18, when the violence happened, have also been arrested,” says Imran.

Anil Kumar, General Secretary, AITUC Gurgaon, says that resentment is brewing against the government, and the labour department in particular, for following anti-worker policies. “All across the state, the workers are demanding a revision of minimum wages (that stand at Rs. 4,800), as in Delhi the minimum wage is Rs. 7,500. We have also been asking the government to put an end to the increasing ‘contractorisation’ of workforce, but nothing has moved in this direction,” he says. He further wants the company to reinstate the sacked workers, as they have been unjustly terminated.

The current standoff is like the lull before a storm, says Kuldip Janghu, General Secretary, Maruti Udyog Kamgar Union, of Maruti’s Gurgaon plant. He also wants the government officials and managements to understand that workers have the right to form trade unions. “The labour department refuses to register a trade union in Haryana because the industrialists do not want this to happen. The Honda agitation, the Maruti standoff, the problems at RICO Auto took place because attempts were made to nip the trade unions in the bud,” says Janghu.

The current scenario could become more complicated because neither the government nor the industry have been able to properly analyse the mood of the present day workers. Anil Kumar of AITUC says that workers these days are more educated, and aware of their rights. “Workers are ready to fight, and this will be a battle to the end,” warns Kumar, who has fought many such battles in the past

Analysts observe that workers in Gurgaon - Manesar also come from a more affluent, and aggressive milieu, where violence is not considered an anathema, especially if one is provoked. A trade union leader says that he has been surprised by the readiness of workers to strike work, and their ability to take on powerful managements.

Many workers say they want to be partners in the growth of industry. “We work hard and the company earns profits. Why should we not be given incentives? The minimum basic needs like shelter, medical facilities, training, and growth should be taken care of. The working conditions should be improved,” asserts a worker.

Trade union leaders admit that neither the government, nor they themselves, have been successful in creating an environment whereby Gurgaon could have peaceful industrial relations. Comrade Sarabjit Singh of CITU is particularly unhappy with the government for failing to ensure job security, social security or life security for the workers.

The workers are being victimised through police pressure, court stays, and the inability of the labour department to deliver the goods, says Singh. The political and administrative leadership has failed to provide any solution to the worsening industrial environment in the state, he alleges.

A joint delegation of trade unions had demanded time from the Chief Minister for a meeting on August 21, but nothing happened as the CM was busy. “The CM and the Labour Minister come to Gurgaon and meet FICCI, CII, GIA. But they do not have the time for trade unions and workers, who form the backbone of industry from Gurgaon to Bawal,” he says.

The increasing trend of contract labour is also complicating matters as trade unions do not have much influence over them. The companies do not want to hire permanent workers in the entire industrial belt, because it is hard to fire them, and also more salaries have to be paid to them compared to contract workers.

S.K Yadav, General Secertary INTUC, says that their organisation has pleaded before the Prime Minister, as well as the Haryana government, to stop the spread of ‘contractisation’ of workers. “The contract workers are forced to work more, paid less salary, and given no benefits. This creates disharmony on the shop floor, and sometimes leads to violence,” he admits. Yadav also accuses the Hooda government of placating the industry, and welcoming investors at the cost of the workforce and even farmers. Land is being acquired and given to industry, but it is not ensured that farmers get jobs, education, and training, he alleges.

With almost 90 per cent of the labour force coming from outside Gurgaon, the workers face further problems because they do not have ration cards and their names do not figure in the voter lists. “These people are non-existent both for the state and the politicians, and as such their problems do not figure in any list,” alleges Janghu.

In this scenario, it seems the State government will have to handle the workers’ sensibilities in an intelligent manner, and ensure that bureaucratic red tape and intransigence does not lead to a point of no return. A large section of workers in Gurgaon is under ‘transformation’ as they become more united—and aggressive—in their intentions to secure their rights against what they believe is injustice.

Sarabjit Singh alleges that industrial relations will be further spoiled if Gurgaon based auto majors start recruiting people from outside the state, while avoiding locals. He cites the instance of Maruti, which is holding interviews in Shimla, Chandigarh, Allahabad, Jaipur and Delhi, to recruit workers.

The government and the management is allowing the problem to linger,  so that it can later get it resolved on its own terms, allege union leaders. There are several companies in the Gurgaon-Manesar belt that are witnessing labour disputes, have locked out premises in violation of the law, have dismissed workers and union leaders – but no action has been taken against them, they allege. There is therefore simmering discontent and tension, which could lead to violence in future, they warn.  

B.D Pahuja says that workers in Gurgaon have not been able to secure their goals because they have allowed their fight to linger on. The first rule of trade unionism is to keep the fight short; secondly, the negotiations should remain open and the route of talks should never close; thirdly, workers should avoid legal complications; last, the charter of demands should remain within the ambit of the financial status of the company, he opines.

A related development, that is increasingly coming under the scanner of trade union leaders, is the role of some village elders who are stoking the fire of regionalism, in the garb of workers’ interest. Singh says that powerful real estate dealers, contractors and transporters are behind the move to create a wedge between the workers, so that they remain divided. The villagers have benefited in many ways from the workers staying in/around their area.

 “Workers from every part of the country have helped in the creation of Gurgaon and Manesar as industrial hubs, and no one will be allowed to break the working class in the name of regionalism,” asserts Singh. The trade unions are keeping a very close watch on the situation, as they find this as a good opportunity to revive their activities. They have not been a real force till now.

A trade union leader says that with 90 per cent of the workers being on contract, the trade union movement has suffered badly. It is due to the decreasing influence of this movement that workers have been left in the lurch and directionless, he opines.

The trade unions acted as a valve, and diffused the tension among the workers and the management whenever there was industrial trouble. But now the non-existent unions, and those in truck with managements, have neutralised this safety valve, thus leading to violent outbursts – as have happened in Maruti and Orient Craft in Gurgaon, say observers.

Gurcharan Das, former CEO of Procter and Gamble, and now a columnist, writes on his blog that labour trouble is a vital concern for the state. Haryana has not learned this lesson. It destroyed the vibrant industrial town of Faridabad due to poor industrial relations, and it is now bent on scaring industry away from Gurgaon as well.

 The Maruti incident teaches that India needs an effective State. An alert police could have prevented the tragedy. Rational labour laws would have stopped Maruti from hiring contract workers, whose status and benefits are at the root of the worker unrest. 

It is thus clear that Gurgaon, which has become a symbol of shining India will have to look for answers from within. All the stakeholders will have to look beyond their short terms interests, to ensure that tensions are defused, and common sense prevails, so that the Millennium City remains an industrial destination of choice. Lessons from West Bengal, Mumbai, and Faridabad should not be forgotten, if Haryana has to continue its growth story, avers S.K Yadav of INTUC. 


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