Bajaj Auto strike: Chakan deadlock traces its origin to Pantnagar, says union

Written by Geeta Nair | Pune | Updated: Jul 3 2013, 23:26pm hrs
Weak demand and the ongoing labour troubles at Chakan plant seem to be hurting Bajaj Auto, which reported a 20% drop in sales during June 2013. The company sold only 2.54 lakh bikes in June this year compared to the 3.18 lakh it sold in June 2012. Total sales of two- and three-wheelers in June 2013 were down 14% to 2.95 lakh units. With 54% growth, three-wheeler sales showed recovery, clocking 41,205 units. Exports grew 4% in to 1.20 lakh units. For the April-June quarter of FY14, the company has seen a 9% drop in total sales and 12% drop in motorcycle sales.

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Bajaj Auto said the illegal strike at Chakan caused a loss of 20,000 motorcycles. Pradeep Shrivastava, the COO, had said on Monday that the demand for the company's products was not affected as they had enough inventory for the next four weeks. Bajaj Auto makes the Pulsar, Kawasaki Ninja, Avenger and KTM bikes at the Chakan plant.

The face-off between the workers and the company continued on the eighth day, with no hopes of workers returning to the shop-floor and the company expecting an unconditional resumption of work. Dilip Pawar, the Vishwa Kalyan Kamgar Sanghatana (VKSS) president, the recognised union of the company, has rejected all charges made by Shrivastava regarding the drop in productivity and demanded that a study be made by an independent third party about this. Regarding the Bajaj Auto managements plan to approach the Pune Industrial Court with an application to declare the strike illegal, Pawar said they had not received any notice from the court. The VKSS president says trouble started for them because they tried to set up the VKSS union at Pantnagar.

The Pantnagar plant workers had started an agitation in May 2012 after getting a poor increment. Some of the (Pantnagar) workers approached VKKS to support their agitation. The workers of Pantnagar knew that it is next to impossible to get union registration in Uttarakhand and, therefore, they requested VKKS for the membership. Considering their situation and request, VKKS gave them membership and the majority of workers from Pantnagar joined VKKS, Pawar said.

According to the union, the argument of the Bajaj Auto management was that the registration of VKKS was only for Maharashtra and they dont have the right to take up any membership from outside Maharashtra. The VKKS referred this matter to the Nainital High Court. The union claims that after the management refused to bargain collectively for Pantnagar workers, a High Court judgment directed the labour department of Uttarakhand to start the conciliation process with VKKS. We never called the Pantnagar workers to join the union, but due to harassment by the local management and low increments, they joined VKKS. The management compelled them, due to its wrong behaviour, to join VKKS. It is managements failure and, to save themselves, they are blaming VKKS," alleges Pawar. Eventually, an altogether new union came up at Pantnagar and a new agreement was signed between them and the Bajaj Auto management.

But, the formation of a VKKS union at Pantnagar changed the relationship between the Bajaj Auto management and the workers at the Chakan plant and the atmosphere has been vitiated since then, says Pawar. Before the Pantnagar episode, the relationship at Chakan was normal. How did the whole atmosphere get vitiated all of a sudden asks Pawar.

He says the workers at Chakan were given impossible targets and, based on these, they started getting warning letters, show cause notices, suspension, pending enquiry suspension and dismissals. Their demand for a scientific time study based on ILO norms was not accepted by the company. This was followed by a failure to review the increment as per the settlement dated May 2010, so they terminated the long-term settlement and stopped work from July 25, 2013.

Nine meetings have been held between the company and the union at Chakan, between September 2012 and June 4, 2013, with no resolution to any of the conflicts.