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Trouble at Tata Motors’ Sanand factory as workers boycott canteen meals

LiveMint logoLiveMint 05-06-2017 Maulik Pathak

Ahmedabad: Trouble seems to be brewing again at the Tata Motors’ Sanand factory in Gujarat as about 450 workers have decided to boycott canteen meals offered by the company, demanding a higher amount of compensation in the first year of the long-term settlement (LTS) of wages.

The workers’ union claimed that it had been negotiating with the management for about 18 months now, but there was little progress for their LTS demand, as a result of which they have resorted to this symbolic form of protest.

“The plant is running smoothly and we have not called a strike. In fact we are ensuring that the company does not face any production delays or losses. There is no sloganeering from our side as well. We have sorted out few issues related to wage settlement with the management but the company is not ready to resolve our demand of LTS hence we had to take this stand,” said Hitesh Rabari, president of Bharatiya Kamdar Ekta Sangh, Sanand, a workers’ union. He said workers have stopped eating at the company’s canteen Saturday onwards as a mark of protest.

A company worker, who spoke on the condition of anonymity and who is part of the ongoing protest, said he was not bringing tiffin or other outside food and was remaining hungry till the end of the day. “I wish the company management resolves the issue soon so we can all go back and eat happily at the canteen,” he said.

The workers are looking to send a stronger statement to the management by staying hungry en mass while at work. The management cannot complain of production loss and at the same time it cannot ignore the state of affairs.

The mass strike presents the hazard of job losses—that too at a time when the manufacturing sector is not creating enough jobs and industries are adopting automation to cut costs.

A case in point is the ongoing issue at the General Motors’ factory in Halol near Vadodara where the company is looking to sell the factory to China’s SAIC Motors Corp. without any of its existing workforce. The company is negotiating with the workers for a compensation package.

The union at Tata Motors was formed after about 300 workers went on a flash strike last year. The workers demanded reinstatement of a few workers who had been suspended by the company on charges of “misconduct”. During the protests, some workers even vandalized about 50 cars inside the plant.

Tata Motors said in a BSE filing on 23 March 2016 that the workers have called off the strike and resumed duty and that normalcy has been restored at the Sanand plant.

Sanand is one of Tata Motors’s six plants in India where the firm manufactures the Nano small car and the Tiago hatchback. It has an annual production capacity of 200,000 units.

The union, recognized by the state’s labour department, has held several meetings with the company management for wage hike and workers’ LTS since last year.

In the first week of March this year, about 200 workers at the Sanand factory boycotted the company’s transportation for returning home after work to protest against the company not adhering to their demands for a wage hike.

The current protest comes close on the heels of Tata Motors signing a three-year wage settlement agreement with its workers’ at the Pune factory on 30 March.

The Sanand plant workers’ union was also expected to sign a similar agreement with Tata Motors this month.

The company has agreed to distribute 73% of the wage hike in the first year of the settlement period (2015-2018) for Pune workers, according to Rabari.

“But in our case they have agreed to disburse only 50% in this period. We have demanded that the company disburse at least 67% of the wage hike in the first year for the settlement period spanning three years,” said Rabari.

He said that while the current form of protest was peaceful, he was not sure how long the workers would continue to do so before resorting to other methods, without elaborating further.

“Some of the workers have opted not to use the canteen services and made their lunch arrangements through lunch packs from their home. This was done to demand an earlier settlement of the LTS. As you are aware, the LTS matter is under conciliation and internal negotiations are also going on a daily basis. The management is committed to resolve this matter and is in daily dialogues with the workmen & the union and is hopeful that good sense will prevail,” according to a Tata Motors’ spokesperson.

On 29 May, the matter related to the workers’ charter of demand (COD) was recommended for referral by the conciliation officer. The workers’ union had also been asked to justify the basis for wage hike in writing ahead of 8 June, when the next meeting of both parties with the labour department officials is scheduled to take place, said a government official in the know of the matter.

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