Protesting Bajaj Auto workers blink, 15-month stalemate ends

Written by Geeta Nair | Pune | Updated: Aug 17 2014, 06:40am hrs
Bajaj workersA file picture of protesting Bajaj Auto workers. Express Archives
The 15-month-long dispute with workers ended on Saturday for Bajaj Auto, giving it much-needed time and focus for regaining market share. The wage revision battle between Bajaj Auto and its Chakan plant labour union, Vishwakalyan Kamgar Sanghatana, ended with the workers signing the wage agreement with the company, which gave them a hike between R9,000 and R10,000.

This is only a marginal increase from what the Bajaj Auto management had offered the workers in February 2014, but had been rejected by the workers. The total additional amount is around R1,280. Of this, R1,000 will be reward for regular monthly attendance. Canteen food, for which the company deducted R100, would be free and workers will pay R180 less toward transport cost. The effective wage increase would be between R10,280 and R11,280.

Rajiv Bajaj, MD, Bajaj Auto, said the Chakan wage agreement exercise had been a lose-lose situation. The organisation has lost out on the production of its most profitable products, its internal culture has been sullied, as also to some degree its external image. The employees have suffered financially and emotionally. While it always takes two hands to clap, in my view the primary responsibility for this forgettable experience rests with the union and a handful of their members who misled and bullied the rest, Bajaj said. In the end none, of their demands were met, all of which were, as Ive maintained from the very beginning, utterly ridiculous, he said.

Time will tell whether the union has unambiguously understood that this is a management that will never compromise its principles. Nevertheless, it would not have been a complete waste if the union has come to appreciate that putting the long-term strategic interest of the business, and the well being of the employees, ahead of their own selfish short-term material interests is the only prudent option before unions in today's times, Bajaj added.

The delay in wage revision had led to a 50-day plant closure between June and August 2013. The workers were fighting the case in the industrial court in Pune, with the company also taking the dispute to the High Court. The hearing in the cases had not reached any conclusion.

Now with the signing of the agreement, all cases filed by the union and the company management have been withdrawn, Kailash Zanzari, VP, manufacturing (motorcycles), Bajaj Auto said. The CTC to workers has gone up from R25,000 to R35,000 and we have explained to the workers that they have got the best in the region, Zanzari said.

The union has already withdrawn its demand for shares and stock options from the company, VKS president, Dilip Pawar said. The workers will return to their nine-year wage agreement signed in April 2010, which will be valid till April 2019.The new wage revision will be valid till April 2016, Pawar said. As per the nine-year agreement, a wage revision is to happen every three years; the next revision will be in April 2016. Around 60% of the hike would go toward basic and dearness allowance and 40% in other allowances. Arrears from April 2013, which amount to R80,000 to R85,000, would be paid to workers before Diwali, VKS union president Pawar said. Suspension of workers with good track record is being revoked, while the rest will go through an inquiry process. There are 850 workers at the Bajaj Auto Chakan plant who would benefit from the new wage agreement.