Outgoing labour secy challenges Marutis HR practice

Written by Ronojoy Banerjee | Ronojoy Banerjee | parul | Parul Chhaparia | New Delhi | Updated: Sep 2 2011, 06:29am hrs
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As the stand-off between Maruti Suzuki and the workers at its Manesar plant entered the fourth day, outgoing labour secretary PC Chaturvedi came out strongly in support of the workers. Chaturvedi, who left office on Wednesday, told FE that it was illegal for the company to ask workers to sign a good conduct bond as a precondition to work. Maruti Suzuki was quick to join issue, with chairman RC Bhargava saying the company was well within its rights to ask for the signing of such a bond since workers were sabotaging production.

It is illegal for any company to force its workers to sign a bond and the workers are free to negotiate their terms of employment, Chaturvedi said. He said since the bond was over and above the contract between the company and the workers, it had no legal backing.

Bhargava countered saying the companys management-union charter certified by the Haryana government bestows it the right to ask the workers to sign such a bond. In 2001 also, we had asked our workers to sign a bond after a long strike. We had (taken the advice of) a good legal counsel then, he said.

According to the Industrial Employment (Standing Orders) Act, 1946, that pertains to Haryana, any company employing over 50 workers has to formulate a charter codifying management-labour relationships. Such charters are then certified by the state government, management and the labour union. In the case of Maruti, such a charter bestows upon it the right to ask workers to sign a bond of good conduct, if it feels that production is getting hampered because of lack of cooperation from them.

According to a well-known labour lawyer who did not want to be named owing to the sensitivity of the matter, Maruti Suzuki has a strong legal case.

In the case of Maruti, if the company has such a certified charter defining labour-mangement relations, then it is legally binding, the lawyer said. However, he added that it is yet to be seen whether there were unions in the company when these orders were certified.

When asked whether the labour ministry should intervene in the matter on behalf of the workers, Chaturvedi replied in the negative. He said the ministry can only intervene if the matter is formally brought before its notice. These matters come within the purview of state governments; therefore, we as labour ministry do not have any say in it unless someone directly approaches us, he said.

Head of Maruti Suzukis yet-to-be-recognised workers union Shiv Kumar said every worker was keen to restart production; however, they were unwilling to sign a bond for it. We are not against Maruti Suzuki at all. They are our employers and we have worked in the company for years. However, what the management wants us to do is completely illegal, he said.

He said tensions spilled over on August 23 when 400-450 workers joined Anna Hazares anti-corruption campaign. This, according to him, did not go down well with the company. Meanwhile, Maruti is looking to hire around 200 trained workers from ITIs on a temporary basis to kick-start production.

On Thursday, the company said it could bring forward the date of the opening of its second unit at Manesar by almost a month in the backdrop of the labour crisis. Maruti Suzuki may commence operations at its second Manesar plant in a day or two. The companys engineers are working practically 24x7 to bring the second plant on stream. The second plant was planned to be commissioned by late September.

According to the companys estimates, Maruti Suzuki has witnessed gradual loss in production over the last few days since workers were engaging in sabotaging production and deliberately causing quality problems. The company said on August 23, 24 and 25 total production stood at 731 units, 437 units and 402 units respectively, while the target production was around 1,200 units. Besides, only a fraction of the production was meeting quality standards. Over the last four days, the company has already suspended 28 while it has asked around 50 engineers from its Gurgaon facility join work at Manesar.