Workers in Maruti Suzuki Manesar plant – Justice Delayed is Justice Denied: ICLR
Preliminary report of the findings of the INTERNATIONAL COMMISSION ON LABOUR RIGHTS, released on 31 May 2013, New Delhi
The International Commission for Labor Rights (ICLR) constituted a team of lawyers and trade unionists from France, Japan, South Africa, the USA and India to investigate the incidents that led to the summary dismissal of over 500 permanent workers and over 1800 contract workers at the Manesar plant of Maruti Suzuki India Limited (MSIL) in August 2012. The team was constituted to bring international law and policy perspectives to bear on a situation that has festered for almost a year, with – at a minimum – 147 workers in jail over that period. The Commission reminds the Government of India that, under well-recognised international and domestic principles, “justice delayed is justice denied.”
The group also brings important comparative perspectives on the current or proposed role of this company in the global economy. MSIL has a parent company in Japan, substantial exports to Africa and Europe, a proposed assembly plant in South Africa, and an investor base in the United States – understanding the company’s practices in India is an imperative for those committed to corporate accountability and sustainable development jurisdictions outside India.
From May 25 to 31, the team has been in India studying the situation at the Manesar plant of Maruti Suzuki. The work of the Commission has included
- meetings with members of the Provisional Committee of the Maruti Suzuki Workers Union (MSWU) and other terminated workers of the Manesar plant as well as their families
- visit with the individuals currently in jail in Kaithal
- discussions with the leadership of national trade union centres AITUC, CITU and HMS, and plant-level unions in Gurgaon-Manesar-Dharuhera industrial areas, and with the representative of the global union federation, IndustriALL
- consultations with MSWU’s advocates and legal counsels
- interviews with the administration of the state of Haryana, including Director General of Police, the Commissioner of Police (Gurgaon) and the Joint Labour Commissioner
- meeting with the Haryana State Human Rights Commission
- attended court hearings
- meeting with representatives of the CII and ASSOCHAM, particularly since the management of Maruti-Suzuki India Limited refused to meet the delegation in spite of an extensive exchange of faxes and emails.
- perusal of documents, tripartite agreements, court records and police reports of the dispute between MSIL and the workers at its Manesar plant.
Maruti-Suzuki began operations in Manesar in 2006, employing trainees for up to three years and contract workers who performed the same tasks as permanent workers in core areas of manufacturing activity. Media reports that remain unchallenged by management and the testimonies we received from workers of the Manesar plant record an experience of extremely high work intensity, with unpaid forced overtime work, wage deductions even for planned leave and overbearing and abusive supervision and invasive surveillance.
The key findings of the team are:
1. The management of Maruti Suzuki India Limited at its Manesar plant:
1.1 Since sometime in 2011 but certainly from early June 2011, coerced workers to join the Maruti Udyog Kamgar Union, an organization that management had been instrumental in constituting in the Company’s Gurgaon plant, in violation of ILO Convention 87 which stipulates that employers refrain from interference in workers’ trade union activity. The management further violated this principle by interfering with workers’ right to forming and joining a union of their own choice, over the course of many months.
1.2 Following the registration of the Maruti Suzuki Workers Union (MSWU) on 1 March 2012, and the submission of the Charter of Demands by the union on 18 April 2012, Maruti Suzuki management violated core principles of bargaining in good faith, as set forth in ILO Convention 98. Of particular concern is the allegation that Maruti Suzuki refused to negotiate on a core issue related to terms and conditions of work – the use and treatment of contract workers. This further vitiated industrial peace, and created an industrial dispute.
1.3 On 18 July 2011, it is alleged that a supervisor addressed a worker with a caste slur. Maruti Suzuki’s failure to address this promptly, through an impartial internal inquiry, is a violation of other Conventions of the ILO, particularly those relating to workplace discrimination. This has a bearing not only on the rights of individual workers, but on the possibility of enduring industrial peace.
1.4 If indeed the management was effectively managing the Manesar plant under the rules it had created for itself, including the Employment Standing Orders, it is difficult to understand how workers could have been responsible for the alleged acts of violence and arson of 18 July 2012, since workers were required to be thoroughly frisked every day before they entered the plant.
1.5 In August 2012, the management summarily and without following due process of law dismissed 546 permanent workers, and terminated the services of over 1800 contract workers. The termination of these workers, who were known to be leaders, members or sympathizers of the Maruti Suzuki Workers’ Union, constitutes impermissible retaliation against those exercising their right to form and join a union of their choice.
2. Role of Labour Department
2.1 The dispute at the Manesar plant arose since the Registrar of Trade Unions refused to register the trade union of the workers’ choice in June 2011, in violation of the principle, in ILO Convention 87, that the state may not require “previous authorization” of a union. Under the Convention, registration must remain a formality, with no role for the authorities to exercise inappropriate discretion.
2.2 Following the events of June 2011, the Labour Department failed to act to protect the workers’ right to association.
2.3 The Labour department failed to serve as an appropriate administrative and adjudicative body of labour matters, especially those connected to industrial relations, as required by ILO Conventions. In particular, on multiple occasions, it did not act on available information that a significant industrial dispute was underway, and to ensure effective conciliation proceedings. Most importantly, it utterly abdicated its responsibility to address the dispute regarding the summary dismissal of 547 permanent workmen in August 2012.
3. Role of the Police:
3.1 The involvement of police including the admitted use of police intelligence branch in maintenance of industrial peace amounted to inappropriate interference by the state with workers’ rights of assembly and association. ILO Convention 87 recognizes the centrality of civil liberties to the free exercise of trade union rights.
3.2 The police deployed a large detachment at the factory gate and inside the plant based on complaints and calls from the management of Maruti Suzuki without adequate cause of action or enquiry or investigation, thereby serving as coercive pressure on peaceful worker protest,
3.3 The police failed to act to protect citizens, including their right to life, and remained a silent observer to the events of 18 July, admittedly at the request of the Maruti Suzuki management, at the Manesar factory gate on 18 July,
3.4 Workers were arbitrarily arrested after the 18 July incident based on one FIR lodged by the Security Manager of the Company, again in violation of the guarantees of Convention 87. Families were harassed and illegally detained to coerce workers to surrender in gross violation of their human rights.
3.5 The workers were arrested and kept in police custody for several days and subjected to severe torture. Independent medical examination sought by the workers’ counsel and directed by court order was delayed by a month and even then it revealed deep injuries.
3.6 The police opposed bail of workers not even named in the Maruti Suzuki FIR of 18 July despite the inability of police investigation to produce proof of involvement.
3.7 The Government of Haryana constituted a Special Investigation Team (SIT) to investigate the incidence of violence at the Manesar plant. The entire Report of the SIT has not been made available to the workers’ counsel to protect the identity of unnamed witnesses in the Report. This is in violation of International Standards of witness protection and collaboration with justice.
3.8 Subsequently police have launched a consistent attack on the workers right to democratic dissent by refusing to allow peaceful protests both in Gurgaon and in Kaithal. The arbitrary arrest of one member of the Provisional committee not named in the FIR or by any eye witness before a press meet and the enforcement of IPC Section 144 in Kaithal and the arrest of 95 workers from their sit-in protest site the night before their planned protest on 19 May 2013 and the subsequent lathi charge on the peaceful sit in on 19 May and the arrests thereafter only creates an atmosphere of terror. Again, this has taken place in violation of the understanding promoted by ILO Convention 87 that the right of association and the right of peaceful assembly and protest are closely interlinked.
Based on these key findings the ICLR notes that (1) the management of Maruti Suzuki has engaged in significant violations of law with respect to the right to freedom of association, the right to collective bargaining and the right to equal pay for equal work, (2) the Labour Department has been ineffective in ensuring the rule of law and (3) the Police has transgressed its powers amounting to interference in industrial disputes and yet failed to act when it should have.
In view of foregoing the ICLR team recommends:
1. Grant of bail to the 147 workers of the Manesar plant of Maruti Suzuki in Bhondsi Jail since 19 July 2012 and for 11 workers at the Kaithal Jail arrested on 19 May 2013 and refrain from the threat of arbitrary arrests to terrorise workers and their families,
2. Immediate constitution of independent impartial inquiry to investigate the circumstances from 4 June 2011 that led up to the incident of 18 July 2012, including into the custodial torture of the workers.
3. The immediate reinstatement of all workers on the rolls of Maruti Suzuki as on 17 July 2012,
4. The Labour Department must ensure through the tripartite machinery that the management of Maruti Suzuki negotiates with the union of the workers choice in good faith,
Furthermore, the ICLR team urges Government to:
5. Create an industrial relations machinery that enables an adequate firewall between the state’s labour department and its police force
6. Seek technical assistance from the ILO to bring its labour administration and adjudication processes into compliance with international standards, in terms of a) the framework for union registration, recognition, and collective bargaining and b) protections for workers’ right to form and join a union of their choice that are in consonance with ILO conventions 87 and 98.
Ashwini Sukthankar +91 94 82 79 05 87
N Vasudevan +91 98 21 53 66 76
The final ICLR report on Maruti Suzuki will be released on 13 June 2013.
The ICLR team members are:
1. Ashwini Sukthankar, International Commission for Labour Rights
2. Masuo Kato, National Confederation of Trade Unions – Zenroren, Japan
3. Yasuhisa Ota, National Confederation of Trade Unions – Zenroren, Japan
4. Suzanne Adely, United Autoworkers, USA
5. Immanuel Ness, City University, New York, USA
6. Franceline Lepany, Labour Lawyer, France
7. Cherie Monaisa, COSATU, South Africa
8. N Vasudevan, New Trade Union Initiative, India
The International Commission for Labour Rights is a global network of labour lawyers and labour experts, providing critical assistance to workers and trade unions around the world. We have conducted fact-findings in Mexico, Colombia, the United States, and many other countries where workers have complained about violations