Industrial Relations in India – A Story of Blood and Violence?

Of late, incidents of industrial violence have been on the rise. In the 1980s, industrial violence and collapsing industrial labour relations in India was a part of everyday life. A Personnel Manager those days would mention in his Resume that he was assaulted / stabbed in his list of qualifications while seeking a job. Over time, with liberalization and professionalization of trade unions, as well as with the introduction and widespread adoption of the Contract Labour System, violence reduced almost to nil and Industrial Relations in India saw improvement.

However, newspaper reports since 2009 have shown that Industrial and Labour Relations in India are on a decline and violence is once again on the rise. Today even CEOs and executives are not spared by workers. The very recent episode of violence at the Maruti Suzuki Factory at Manesar, Haryana, is a brutal reminder that industrial violence in India is by no means a thing of the past.

The following are a few of the major incidents of violence that have occurred in the recent past and continue to occur in India;

1. A tea planter and his wife in Assam were brutally murdered and then set ablaze by disgruntled and angry plantation workers.

2. The Vice-President, HR of Auto-Part Manufacturing Giant was murdered for laying off workers.

3. Violence broke out at an Indian Engineering Giant’s unit after several workers perished in an accident;

4. 80,000 workers went on a strike in Haryana on the death of a co-worker.

5. A Korean car manufacturer’s employee’s union announced an indefinite strike till their demands were met.

6. The CEO of an Italian MNC in Noida was lynched by a mob.

7. Two senior executives in a jute factory in West Bengal were burnt to death 7.

8. The arm of a senior executive of a well known MNC was chopped off.

Industrial Violence is not confined only to a few areas in India. In the 1980’s, the incidents of violence was more common in the Mumbai, Pune and Nasik belts. In fact, Dr. Datta Samant was labeled as the initiator of violence in the labour movement after he lead the great Textile Mill Worker’s Strike in Mumbai which eventually brought the industry to a close in the city. However, violence today is much more wide spread and can be seen all over India. Maruti Suzuki is certainly not the only example. Incidents of violence in a Tractor manufacturing unit in Pune, a Textile Mill in Kolhapur, among automobile suppliers in Coimbatore, in Factories in Chennai, as well as the attack on an expat Executive in West Bengal, are only a few illustrations to show that violence is not confined to any particular region.

The surge in industrial violence in India can be attributed to many reasons. Taking the example of Maruti Suzuki again, a leading English newspaper has pointed out that the violence in the Manesar factory is a result of the failure of the collective bargaining system and decline in Industrial Relations in India. This failure is attributed to the fact that a Trade Union recognized by the factory not only failed to secure a wage settlement, but also failed to end the system adopted by Maruti of deploying temporary outsourced workers. The newspaper observed that the outsourced workers far out numbered the permanent workers and were paid a fraction of what the permanent workers are paid. Another interesting observation of the newspaper was that by refusing to concede to the demands, the management effectively rendered the union ineffectual. Dis-empowering the union in this fashion also meant abandoning collective bargaining, leaving force as the instrumentality of negotiation.

Outsourced labourers often get violent when they are deployed on a long term basis without being granted permanency by the principle employer. There are other social factors, such as political influence, which are also responsible for violence. An increase in the average workload, as well as loss of jobs in recessionary times are also factors leading to discontent among workers.

Another major cause for industrial violence in India is the growing disparity in wages between various levels of employment and ineffective neutralization of costs through Dearness Allowance. In the past 12 months alone, the price of petrol shot from Rs.47/- per litre to Rs.71/- per litre. The average monthly expenditure went up by more than Rs. 800/-. However, the rate of increase in Dearness Allowance remained at Rs.250/- to Rs.300/-, which was not enough to meet the increase in costs. Employers cannot compensate the workers through a total neutralization of costs as they are unable to increase the productivity beyond a certain level. The resultant dissatisfaction lead to violence.

In today’s society, violence even on the roads is on the increase. Educated people get into fights on the streets for no apparent reason. Industry after all is a part of society and what is happening in society will reflect on industry. Therefore, workers react aggressively today at the slightest provocation. There are incidents of violence both inside and outside the factory premises. Read more about violence outside factory premises and what employment laws in India have to say about it here.

On occasions, issues are not addressed on time and are delayed or even side tracked. In one Company, the workers were not provided with a shed for parking their motor cycles. The workers, one day barged into the premises of the Company and parked their vehicles in the parking area reserved for the managerial staff, which subsequently led to violence. Therefore, the timely handling of labour issues keeping within the framework of industrial labour laws is of much importance.

The consequences of violence are disastrous. There is often bloodshed, destruction to property, gross employee misconduct, not to mention staggering losses in man days and wasteful disruption of work. It is difficult to prove violence on the part of an individual employee in a factory. The courts take their own time to decide the merits of the matter. Witnesses are hard to come by. Thus, even after the occurrence of violence, it is difficult for the management to defend in a Court of law the termination of any employee accused of violence. The Courts have reacted vehemently to the issue of Industrial Violence and have expressed strong views on the same. Read more here.

The Government machinery is also indifferent. The police are usually not willing to respond quickly to industrial violence. Hence, the growing incidence of violence is a major concern for all manufacturing units. Only an elaborate grievance redressal mechanism in keeping with the principles laid down by Indian employment laws, effective man management, along with an iron hand, can control such violence. Deterrent factors such as immediate action by the management, disciplinary action against employee and serious punishment for man handling will also help. The Government must also act more seriously in cases of violence.