Clouds over auto hub as Hero wage talks flounder

Written by feBureau | New Delhi | Updated: Feb 23 2013, 14:24pm hrs
With wage negotiations between the workers and the Hero MotoCorp management remaining inconclusive on Friday, the former have now decided to boycott work at the Gurgaon plant on Sunday, while warning of serious action such as a partial strike from Monday.

We have had enough of waiting. We will surely do something from Monday, either a slowdown in production through a partial strike or a hunger strike. We will take the final call after our internal meeting on Saturday, Bhim Rao, general secretary of Hero MotoCorp Workers Union (HMCWU) told FE. HMCWU represents around 1,200 permanent workers at the plant.

Any strike at this stage at the Hero plant in Gurgaon would be quite detrimental for production as well sentiment of the auto sector, especially in the Gurgaon-Manesar belt, which currently is seen as one of the major auto production belt in the country. Maruti Suzuki Indias plant at Manesar has had labour trouble for the last one year and is only now returning to normalcy. As it is, companies like Maruti and several others have been moving to Gujarat to set up their new plants. Hero too is planning its next production facility in Gujarat.

Analysts feel that continuous labour trouble may see the auto industry slowly moving out of the Gurgaon-Manesar belt.

But the outlook is not entirely bleak. We are still hoping for the company to arrive at a solution acceptable to us soon through peaceful talks. We dont want trouble, so a full-blown strike remains the last option. But we will do it if necessary and if pressed into a corner, Kanwalpreet Singh, president, HMCWU, said. The factory had last seen a strike in 2006 over wage issues and the demand for regularisation of contract workers.

Though Sunday is normally a weekly off at the plant, the company had reportedly asked workers to come for duty in order to make up for the production loss of Thursday when the plant was closed following the call for a nationwide strike by 11 central trade unions. The Gurgaon plant makes about 8,000 scooters and motorcycles a day across three assembly lines.

The threat of a partial strike from Monday follows over 60 rounds of talks over the last six months that have so far not yielded any results. HMCWU has asked for a monthly wage hike of around Rs 14,000-15,000 (the monthly average salary today is Rs 46,000) in order to match the recent hikes given by Maruti Suzuki and Honda Motorcycle to its workers at nearby plants. However, the company has offered a hike of around Rs 8,500.

HMCWU has been threatening to strike for over a month now, though industry analysts said that it may be using pressure tactics in order to make the Hero management succumb to its demands. Both sides have indulged in such tactics in the hope of arriving at an early decision. In fact, the management in January had reportedly issued show-cause notices against six HMCWU office bearers threatening suspension after the workers reportedly resorted to a production slowdown at the factory causing an estimated loss of around Rs 8 crore over two days. Workers had also held a silent protest for several weeks starting January 4 by boycotting company-provided snacks.

Last week, trade unions such as CITU, AITUC and INTUC, apart from workers unions from Maruti Suzuki and Honda, had also held a meeting with HMCWU outside Heros Gurgaon plant in a show of collective strength. At the meeting, the option of a strike had been discussed, but only as a last option after other means of had been exhausted.

Sputtering out

* Workers to boycott work at Gurgaon plant on Sunday. Warn of serious action like partial strike from Monday

* The Gurgaon plant makes about 8,000 scooters and motorcycles a day across three assembly lines

* Continuous labour trouble may see the auto industry moving out of the Gurgaon-Manesar belt, feel analysts