A year after workers at Tata Motors’ Sanand plant went on strike for a month, trouble appears to be brewing at the plant again. Workers have alleged that they have been demanding a hike in salaries since a year and a half, but the company keeps coming up with misleading tactics such as the suspension of 26 workers last year, which ultimately resulted in the month-long strike. The Gujarat government’s labour department, today, called for a meeting between both parties, but failed to resolve the conflict.
Hitesh Rabari, President of the union Bharatiya Kamdaar Ekta Manch, which was formed post the strike last year, told FE, “We wrote to the government after 10 meetings with the management yielded no results. At the meeting today, the company spokesperson said they had not yet studied the charter of demands we submitted.”
The Labour department has called for another meeting on March 15.
Workers also claim that supervisors at the plant have been threatening those who are part of the 450-member union. They added that permanent workers are being discriminated against by the company in favour of contract workers who have been brought in from other parts of the country.
One worker said, “They are trying to pressurise us by issuing notices to our colleagues. The supervisors also threaten those who are members of the union. Many of us are being forced to work overtime. During the winter, they asked us to work overtime and even if we refused to do it, they made us wait in the cold and did not deploy transportation for us. Workers from outside are being given free housing and free meals, while Gujarati workers living in the same place have to pay their own rent and provide for themselves.”
The permanent workers, who have been with the plant for seven years now, claim that their salary has not been hiked since 2015. The highest paid of them receive a meagre R12,000 each month, which they say is barely enough for them to provide for their and their family’s basic needs.
In a major difference from last year, when production had slowed down majorly during the strike, workers are keen to not let work be disrupted at the plant. Addressing in-charge deputy labour commissioner MS Patel, one worker said, “If we had wanted to, we could have joined OBC leader Alpesh Thakor last week when he threatened to shut down the plant. However, we didn’t because it’s our company and we don’t want work to suffer but the company does not seem to be responding with the same positivity that we are bringing to the interactions.”
Taking note of the various issues raised by the workers, Patel said, “We are going to make efforts to ensure a satisfactory conclusion can be reached for both parties. However, it might take up to two months to solve this issue due to the legal procedures that need to be followed.” Rabari added that the company had also stopped issuing uniforms to the workers, despite taking a cut for them from their salaries. “For the last couple of months, we have been coming to the plant in our own clothes, which are getting destroyed due to the work we do,” said Rabari.
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On a final note, the workers said, “We are trying our best to talk reasonably with the company. However, if the issue isn’t resolved soon, the company will be responsible for whatever happens. We have been assured of support from the Opposition party’s leaders and other youth leaders, too, but we have not spoken to them yet. Let’s see.”
In an e-mailed statement, a Tata Motors spokesperson said, “Tata Motors works with its union as part of collective bargaining towards long term benefits of both workmen and organization.
The demand made by Union are unreasonable. Company remains engaged in a harmonious discussion with union representatives. Instead of continuing discussion with management, workmen have approached Labour authorises for conciliation. Tata Motors thanks the Labour authorities for the intervention and will work along with them to arrive at a solution.”