In the Bellsonica factory located at Plot-1 Sector-8, IMT Manesar (inside Maruti Suzuki campus), parts for Maruti Suzuki cars such as front pillar, front end, center pillar, rear framework, side bumper framework etc are made by 89 permanent workers (technician), 354 trainees and 500 workers hired through 4 contractor companies. 45 workers of the permanent workforce had just got their union registered when the management suspended all of them on Oct 10, 2014. The management then formed a committee of some permanent workers and attempted to create an atmosphere of fear in the factory.
The workers work hard at the factory: Sheet metal work. 1,500 ton and 1,600 ton transfer press, 1,000 to 300 ton tandem line, 300 to 80 ton progressive press and along with that 145 spot welding robots, 23 AW welding robots, manual welding, station spot welding. And in the B shift, work for 12 hours is compulsory. The difference between the wages of permanent, trainee and workers hired through contractor companies is not much and all workers do work. All the workers have similar uniforms. Conditions are fertile for good bonds between all the workers - permanent and temporary ones. Even under such circumstances (or perhaps because of such circumstances), union registration was attempted - which was to be constrained to the 89 permanent workers. But the 45 workers who registered the union were shown the door by the management. The 45 permanent workers were then compelled to talk to and build relations with the 900 temporary workers.
Whenever meetings were called by the 45 involved in union formation, at least 700 workers would show up. The company's agents would secretly film the meetings based on which the management would expel workers. The number of expelled permanent, trainee and workers hired through contractor companies reached 180. However, in the last 6 months, the company has put a stop on expelling workers.
Bellsonica holds 70% of the shares of the company and Maruti Suzuki holds the remaining 30%. Bellsonica has 3 factories in Japan and one in Indonesia also.
The Registrar of Haryana government registered the union. Bellsonica company challenged the registration in the High Court at Chandigarh. In course of arguments, the company claimed 354 trainees as workmen (permanent) while the union claimed that trainees were not workmen (permanent). Meaning, as per the company, trainees were eligible for union membership while according to the union, trainees could not be members of the union. Supreme Court rulings were cited. Finally, the High Court dismissed the company's appeal on Dec 9, 2014. Neither the company, nor the union said anything about the 500 workers hired through contractor companies.
The 45 permanent workers went to the Labour Department to challenge their suspension. The Deputy Labour Commissioner issued summons to the Bellsonica management which the latter ignored. Acting on the report of the Deputy Labour Commissioner, the Labour Commissioner at Chandigarh served notice to the company for unfair labour practices …. served notice. The management provided the charge sheet to the suspended workers after a delay of 3 months, in January 2015, only on being ordered by the Court to do so. Leaders say that the Bellsonica management has taken the matter to a Division Bench of the High Court which heard some arguments on April 12, 2016 and fixed the next date for July 12th.
During these 1.5 years, on being asked by the union, that is the permanent workers constituting the union, the Bellsonica workers have given them Rs 2,000 on three occasions adding up to Rs 18-20 lakh. And the permanent Bellsonica workers who have become union leaders are so caught up in legalism that they present to the workers that they should maintain peace and keep up regular production – those being the workers' weapons. In these 1.5 years, work was never stopped in the factory, there were no disturbances and production went on peacefully.
85,000 unions are registered in the domain of the Indian government. According to rules-laws-legislation-constitution only permanent workers can become members of registered unions in factories. Casual workers, workers hired through contractor companies, trainees or apprentices cannot become members of these unions. Currently 80-90% workers in factories cannot become members of these unions. Bellsonica factory is not outside these rules. The examples of Honda, Maruti, Napino Auto, Munjal Kiriu, Asti Electronics – which are all factories within IMT Manesar, are before us.
• The fees for union registration is Rs 5. Typing-postage etc expenses come up to Rs 200-300.
• In factories, only permanent workers can become members of unions.
• Temporary workers cannot become members of unions in the factory. Temporary workers, casual workers, workers hired through contractor companies, trainees, apprentices cannot become members of unions in the factory.
• Currently, 80-90% workers working in factories cannot become members of factory unions.
In these circumstances, it is necessary to question legalism, to question factory unionizing. It is even more essential to increase coordination, bonding, talmel amongst workers - permanent and temporary - within the factories and industrial areas. The women workers in the garments sector in Bangalore have given a glimpse of the impact of worker coordination independent of leaders and unions – they compelled the government to cancel its new PF rules.