The latest outbreak of violence in a clash between workers and managers at Maruti's plant at Manesar, Haryana, is said to be a one-off incident, as there was no pending union demand or dispute that triggered the event in which a senior human resource manager has been killed. But the emerging details show the discontent that smacked of a tinderbox situation. India's largest car maker is not the sole sufferer in Haryana. The 'Maruti belt', as the area around Gurgaon's industrial zone is called, has seen labour disputes involving companies such as Honda Motorcycles, Ricoh and Sunbeam in the past few years, indicating a broader influence of labour militancy. Last year was bad for Maruti, as its refusal to recognise an independent trade union in June led to a 12-day strike before an uneasy truce. Another two-week strike erupted over other demands in October. Slowly, but surely, Maruti has started plans to open another plant in Gujarat, with the probable intent of diversifying its labour risk.
There are three issues at stake here. The first is of government action. Haryana is an ambitiously industrialising state, and its trade unions have been equally ambitious. They reflect an approach that resembles Bombay of the early 1980s. It is for the state government - which has surprisingly been industry-friendly irrespective of which party is in power - to make sure that Haryana doesn't suffer the fate of Bombay's textile mills. This requires a genuine concern for both workers and companies with a will to act as a facilitator in dialogues. Second, companies must look at the process details involving issues such as employment of casual workers and recognition of trade unions to ensure that without drawing in political parties or extreme ideologies, there is ground for engagement in the interest of fair play. Maruti has to look within to see if there is something in its culture or historical practices that needs to be tweaked. Educating managers on political correctness would be a good idea, given that the latest incident is linked to an allegedly casteist remark by a supervisor.
Third, employers need to think long term. Diversifying plants into new locations is a good idea, but so is an understanding of local issues and cultures. When Maruti set up its plant in the 1980s, both Haryana and India were different, and the Japanese Samurai were job-creating heroes. There is a new generation on the shopfloor now; and it has a different mindset. In the new phase of increased aspirations, Maruti's human resource practices are best absorbed from successful multinationals elsewhere in India. Whatever the provocation, no one has the right to indulge in unruly violation of law through violence or indignities. A progressive business culture is critical for the India Story to sustain.