People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


No. 45

November 06, 2011

Concern Expressed over Working Conditions in NCR


ON November 2, human rights activists and trade union leaders expressed concern over the harsh working conditions of workers in the National Capital Region (NCR) and extended solidarity with the struggle of the Maruti-Suzuki workers. They were speaking at a discussion on ‘Labour Scenario: Lessons from Maruti Workers Unrest & Its Coverage in the Media,’ organised by the Delhi Media Centre for Research and Publications Trust and the Delhi Union of Journalists.


Colin Gonsalves, senior advocate and human rights campaigner, said that the legal adjudication process stands discredited today. The legitimacy of the courts, particularly the labour courts, has declined, he observed. The courts interfere with labour struggles to defuse strikes and other actions rather than defending workers’ rights. He attributed this situation to the dismantling of the country’s labour laws through judgement after judgement of the Supreme Court. Gonsalves cited in particular the SAIL judgement of 2001 in which the Supreme Court struck down the right of contract workers to regular employment; and the Umadevi judgement of 2006 which ruled that ad hoc workers do not have the right to be regularised in government service.   


A D Nagpal, secretary of the Hind Mazdoor Sabha, condemned the negative attitude of large companies, including multinationals, to all trade union activity. He said that they recognise only puppet unions and refuse to permit any trade union affiliated to a central trade union organisation to function.


Dipankar Mukherjee of the CITU regretted that the government is deciding economic policies in consultation with corporate houses, without consulting the central trade union organisations, although labour is essential to the production process. As an instance, he said the proposal for the National Manufacturing Investment Zones has not been discussed with the unions and there is a danger that workers’ rights will be jeopardized in these zones. The government’s approach is totally investor-friendly and anti-labour, he noted.  He pointed to the irony that many industrial barons are MPs and even ministers, but they demand that the trade unions in their establishments be non-political. He said the two demands of any company before investment are that there should be no tax and no trade union.


Mukherjee lamented that Maruti’s standing orders were the worst he had ever seen. Another problem, he noted, is the extremely high proportion of trainees and contract workers in the Maruti plant at Manesar where only 35 per cent of the workforce is permanent. In Suzuki’s plant in Japan, the proportion is the reverse, he said.


Sukumar Muralidharan of the International Federation of Journalists said that industrial action in Maruti, India’s largest manufacturer of passenger cars, came in several waves over the last five months. But there were unifying themes in all phases of the agitation. AITUC secretary D L Sachdeva also spoke on the occasion.


Since the major disinvestment of central government equity in Maruti in 2001, employment has shifted sharply towards casual and contract work. Workers who enjoy job security in Maruti have become a rapidly diminishing minority. Because of intensifying competition, workers have --- especially in the Manesar plant --- been yoked to an ever more rapidly moving assembly line of production.


These aspects of the Maruti agitation were not widely reported by the media, which confined itself to the management inspired narrative of a privileged group of workers resorting to indiscipline and assembly line sabotage to secure their objectives.


These trends are evident in the media too, with increasing numbers of journalists being compelled by managements to opt out of the secure employment that is their right under the Working Journalists Act, in favour of short-term contracts.


As the sub-committee of the Press Council of India which inquired into the “paid news” abuse noted last year, this is influencing the quality of news content. Insecurity of employment makes journalists more vulnerable to pressures from advertising and marketing departments.


The Maruti agitation has a bearing well beyond that company or indeed the automobile industry. It possibly foreshadows an intensification of the struggle for workplace justice and equity as the policy of globalisation lurches into what seems a terminal crisis.