Rajiv Bajaj,MD,Bajaj Auto,is confident the agitation that has kept his premium motorcycle manufacturing Chakan plant shut for the last four days will fizzle out. Bajaj believes the union doesnt have a valid,bona fide issue and says the workers support will dwindle away. As each day passes they will see that these people (union leaders) are carrying out an illegal activity and slowly I expect more and more people will come to work, Bajaj told FE on Friday.
For starters,the company has got an injunction from the industrial court in Pune to ensure the safety of plant and machinery as well as to ensure that from June 29,anyone who wants to work should be allowed to do so. Agitating workers are also not allowed to assemble within a 1-km radius of the Chakan plant. The work stoppage at the plant by the official union,the Vishwa Kalyan Kamgaar Sanghatana,entered the fourth day on Friday.
Bajaj says the number
of workers reporting to work is rising; 300 workers were in on Friday. Production of the Pulsar motorcycle resumed from day one and is expected to pick up,which means production wont be shifted to another plant yet.
Indeed,Bajaj doesnt see the situation continuing for long and,therefore,isnt contemplating a production shift.
As a back-up,a trial and testing process has started at the Waluj,Aurangabad plant where around 200 Pulsars have been produced.
Bajaj refuted the numbers floated by the union with regard to contract labour,saying there are totally 1,500 workers employed at Chakan including permanent workers and trainees and 508 contract workers employed in non-production areas such as the canteen,house-keeping,garden and horticulture,logistics and transport. To suggest that contract workers are making the motorcycles is completely ridiculous, Bajaj said.
While ruling out giving shares to workers,Bajaj said the issue of renegotiating wages raised by the workers union,was blatantly false and untrue. However,he was open to dialogue,he said,adding that union leader Dilip Pawar had been in touch till three days before the strike when the demand for shares was made.
According the Bajaj Auto MD,the wage agreement is valid till 2019 and the company is not in a position to reopen the agreement. “There should be some sanctity to these agreements. The nine-year agreement is to be implemented,year by year,with a 12% increment every year. There was a provision for a 12% increment every year for all workmen and this increase was given to everybody including top management,” Bajaj said.
We will see every year if the 12% hike is right and needs to be increased or reduced. Two years back,compared to the rest of the economy,12% was higher but we decided to maintain it because though the industry did not do well,Bajaj Auto was doing well, he pointed out.
Typically,discussions are held every year between the plant committee and the management committee and 20 to 30 issues are taken up and amicably resolved. But his has not happening at the Chakan plant for the last two years, Bajaj said.
Bajaj said that his dream while setting up the Chakan unit in 1997 was to create a world-class plant and export motorcycles. The first 14 years we did not have any problem and I was happy that the dream of a global motorcycle plant was shaping up. Unfortunately in the last two years Pawar has interfered at the Chakan plant,but we adopted a parental attitude even though we have been suffering production losses,” Bajaj said.
Comparing the situation at the plant to that of a 16-year-old teenager misled by outsiders and not listening to the parent,he said,This is part of growing up and they will learn just as a child learns. For two years we have been too patient and now is the time to be firm, Bajaj cautioned.
The Vishwa Kalyan Kamgaar Sanghatana has been trying to mobilise the workers across the four plants Akurdi,Chakan,Waluj and Pantnagar so that they could form a common platform and become a stronger union,and this vision articulated by Pawar clearly displeased the company. Bajaj says the union had been trying this for so many years but it has not worked. Each city is different,mentality is different and economy is different. The age of the plant is different and cost of living is different. For a union to be everything will not work. What will work for each plant is an internal union of each plant, said Bajaj.
Another complaint voiced by Bajaj Auto workers was that the MD had not been talking directly either to the union or workers and that it was the middle management that was creating mistrust between them. There was a feeling among workers that the dignity of labour was not respected. The dignity of labour is determined not by whether the MD talks or not. It is to be judged by what one does rather than what one talks. Dignity comes by not creating classes, Bajaj said. Let people walk throughout the plants and see the building,eat in our canteens and use the toilets. We all wear the same uniform,come in the same bus,all of us eat in the same canteen. This we learnt from the Japanese,from Kawasaki, he said. It is meaningless to say the MD does not talk. That is an old style of working where top people will talk and go away and nothing happens. Bajaj Auto has a team of people taking care of the plant and it worked for 14 years and the wage levels can be benchmarked with other companies around,Bajaj said.
But is the timing of the stir by workers a positive for Bajaj Auto and help clear inventory and piled-up stocks at dealerships as well as the company especially at a time when motorcycle sales are declining. Bajaj said that from a market point of view there was nothing positive about these developments. There is no silver lining from a business perspective. We want to produce more,sell more and make profits, Bajaj said. The Chakan plant makes the KTM bikes which are exported and given that the rupee is at round the 60 to the dollar,we are losing lot of production and profits,Bajaj said.
The KTM 390 Duke is being assembled at the Chakan plant and priority is being given to exports by the company. A spate of new launches are planned over the next few months and all these products come from the Waluj and Pantnagar plants so these new launches will remain unaffected,Bajaj said. The next launch will be the New Discover 125 T and production of this has started at Pantnagar. The new RE Compact range of autorickshaws will roll out from the Waluj plant and Bajaj believes these will go on as planned.