Tata Motors threatens to hire contract workers to replace striking workers
As the flash strike by the workers at Tata Motors’ Sanand plant entered the fifth day, the management on Friday hardened its stance by virtually reading the riot act to them.
The workmen have been asked to rejoin their duties or else the company will hire contract workers to replace them, advocate Nihil Mehta, secretary of the Gujarat wing of Indian National Trade Union Congress, who is also associated with Automotive Workers Association in Gujarat, told FE.
Tata Motors, which currently manufactures its ultra-small car Nano at the plant, plans to start production of its upcoming model Tiago in the next month. Hiring trained workers in Gujarat does not seem to be a problem as there are several trained workforce from ITIs available in nearby towns and villages.
The company on Friday appealed to the workmen not to be misled by people with vested interests and join the duties immediately and restore normalcy at the plant in the larger interest of themselves, their families and the company.
About 426 permanent workers have been on strike at the plant since Monday. Though the immediate trigger was the suspension of some of their colleagues on disciplinary grounds, the workers have now brought up the issue of registration of their union as well as salary and increment issues.
When asked if the company plans to take legal action against the workers, a Tata Motors spokesperson said, “The company will explore all possible options to continue its operations, peacefully and unhindered, if this illegal strike continues”.
The workers allege that their dispute with the management began in December 2015, when they attempted to form a union. “After we submitted an application for forming a workers’ union, the management began harassing us,” said Vikesh Rabari, who is part of the seven-member panel of workers formed to negotiate with the management.
Tata Motors’ management dismissed the allegation, stating, “We have a strong history of working with unions across our plants. They (workers) have been spreading rumours that the company is not allowing them to form their own union and organise themselves, which is not true. The company recognises the right of its workmen to form a union of their own and is supportive of the same”.
Rabari said that the plant has been operating at only 10% of its installed capacity over the past few years due to lack of demand for Nano.
The company said that rumours are being spread by some elements with vested interest that the management is not allowing the workmen to enter the plant premises and work. “Tata Motors management clarifies that none of the regular workmen (other than a suspended few) have been ever stopped from entering the premises and discharging their duties,” a company statement read.
The state government’s labour department has assured the workers that an inquiry into the matter would be completed within a month. However, it has not given any direction to reinstate the suspended workers.
The Sanand plant has an installed capacity to manufacture 250,000 units annually. While the company did not divulge the utilisation capacity at the plant, workers told FE that over 130 units are manufactured on a daily basis which has got reduced to half with the ongoing strike.
Sanand has a total workforce of 2,200 of which 500 are permanent while the remaining 1,700 are contractual. While the permanent workers draw a net monthly salary of around Rs 12,000, a contract employee draws Rs 9,000. The workers say that their increments are measly at Rs 100 per annum while Ford Motors, which has a factory in the vicinity, pays a higher salary at Rs 18,000 a month.