Workers at Satyam Auto and Rockman Industries, two leading auto parts suppliers to India’s largest two-wheeler company, Hero MotoCorp, have been on strike for the past two weeks. They have come together to press for better wages and a workers’ union.
A two-week strike is unusual, but the managements of both companies have refused to agree to the workers’ demands. Unlike previous strikes here, this industrial action shows signs of disturbing the peace in the region, with support pouring in from workers at other companies. The region, which saw accelerated investments last decade, boasts of leading companies such as fast moving consumer goods company Hindustan Unilever, luggage manufacturer VIP, battery manufacturer Eveready, and Hero MotoCorp. Around 850 companies here employ over 70,000 people.
So, as workers from the two strike-hit companies staged a protest here on Tuesday, outside the offices of the district administration, they were supported by workers from companies such as VIP, Eveready ITC and Bharat Heavy Electricals Ltd (BHEL). A similar march was taken out last Wednesday, too. Major trade unions such as the All India Trade Union Congress and Hind Mazdoor Sabha have supported the protesting workers. So are 13 workers’ unions at the public sector engineering major, BHEL. Workers at Eveready and VIP have presented their respective companies with charters of demands, including wage hike.
“If there is a need, we’ll stop work in our factory,” says Ashwani Kumar, president of the unrecognised workers’ union at ITC. Most workers here say they are inspired by the success of the ITC strike in 2010. In October 2010, workers at ITC’s manufacturing facility here went on strike over similar demands, wage increase and a workers’ union. The three-day strike ended after the company agreed to give all workers an 8.3 per cent bonus and Rs 1,000 advance for festival season. ITC later increased salaries of all workers.
The protesting workers at Satyam Auto and Rockman complain they are paid the minimum wage, whereas other companies pay higher salaries for the same work. They also allege they are paid less than other workers working at other facilities of the company. Apart from this plant, Satyam has manufacturing facilities in Gurgaon and Manesar. Rockman has plants in Ludhiana, Gurgaon and New Delhi, besides Haridwar.
“We are paid Rs 6,500 for a month’s work, whereas for a similar work in any other factory, workers are paid much better,” says Jitendra Singh, 27, a welder at Satyam Auto.
Unlike the trend last year, when workers from over a dozen companies across the country went on strike over issues relating to contract labour, it’s the permanent labourers who are protesting this time. A part of the reason is the law that mandates against hiring of more than 50 per cent contract labour. Like in the past, contract labourers are not participating in this strike.
Most companies in the region agree workers’ salaries are lower than industry standards in other regions. But they ask why should they pay more than what the state government has fixed as the minimum wage, arguing the industry in the region is still recovering its investment.
With Rs 228 being the minimum wage for a skilled worker employed in an establishment, the state has the highest minimum wage in the country. Haryana has fixed the minimum wage for a highly skilled worker employed in the manufacturing industry at Rs 198, while Gujarat has fixed it between Rs 167 and Rs 171.
“It’s unfair to compare wages in Manesar and here,” says R N Gour, deputy general manager, human resources, Satyam Auto. “The company is paying as per the minimum wages set by the state government. If the state government increases the minimum wage, we, too, will increase the wages,” says Gour. Rockman didn’t respond to an email sent to the company.
Data on industrial disputes do not bear out the impression that industrial relations have deteriorated. Data from the Labour Bureau suggests the state saw three labour disputes in 2005, leading to loss of 34,415 man-days; nine in 2006, 13 in 2007 and two in 2008. Data for preceding years is not available. However, the state administration agrees relations between employers and employees are not cordial.
“Workers here are seeing others are paying better wages, so they are protesting for similar increase. Over the last couple of years, disputes have increased near Diwali and in March-April, because of wage increase,” said Vipin Kumar, assistant labour commissioner of Haridwar, who is negotiating between the managements and protesting workers.