TN: Yamaha Motor Workers Foil Management Attempts to Break Union, Win Bargaining Rights
Workers of the India Yamaha Motor Private Limited during their strike in the plant in the outskirts of Chennai.
Jubilant workers of India Yamaha Motor Private Limited plant in the outskirts of Chennai returned home on October 20 after a 10-day-long strike. The workers, through their militant protest which began on October 10, said they defeated the management's plan to break their union and ensured their right to hold talks on wage agreements.
The Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU), to which the India Yamaha Motor Workers Union (IYMWU) is affiliated, has termed the victory as ‘historic’, considering the multi-pronged attack faced by the workers.
The attempt of the management, from seeking a ban from the court to the help of the police force to suppress the struggle and threats to shut down the plant, proved futile, said some workers, adding that the striking stayed put in the plant campus round the clock, braving the threats and rain.
According to the union, the management had roped in a former union leader to lead a pro-management in an attempt to break workers' unity and even signed a bonus agreement, after which the workers began their strike. Eventually, the management had to concede to their demands after the tripartite talks.
In 2018, the workers had launched a 55-day struggle after two workers were retrenched for unionising.
'DIVIDE AND RULE'
The workers began their strike on October 11 against the “unfair labour practices” of the management. A new union was formed and was registered quickly by the management to annul the bargaining capacity of workers, who organised under the CITU in 2018.
A worker of the plant, on the condition of anonymity, told NewsClick: "The management formed the union after roping in a few workers, who danced to their tunes. One particular person, Velmurugan, was leading our union and was later removed owing to his fishy actions."
As per the norms followed by the union, the term of the office-bearers was for three years, and the workers elected a new leadership after the tenure ended. The new leader of the union was deputed to hold talks with the management on arriving at a long-time settlement (LTS).
Workers of the Yamaha Motors holding protest sit in protest against the anti labour policies of the management.
Despite election of the new leadership almost 13 months ago, the management “intentionally” held talks with the pro-management union and kept the recognised union away from the discussions.
“Instead of talking to the new leadership of our union, the management invited the union formed by themselves and arrived at an agreement”, the worker said. The majority of workers led by CITU refused to accept the agreement and demanded talks with the majority union.
While it takes months to get a union registered, the management had managed, through money power, to register their union in less than a week, the workers said.
In the meantime, in an attempt to foil the strike and divide the workers, the management promised permanent jobs to apprentices and casual labourers working in the plant. The CITU-affiliated union has a membership of 540 of the 850 permanent workers, while the management-supported union has a much lower membership.
“Their intention was to increase the number of members in the pro-management union, at least on paper. Apart from promising jobs to temporary workers, they also promised promotions for workers to executive levels,” the worker said.
The management had assured permanent jobs to these workers, provided they enrol themselves in the newly formed union. The workers said that the management even got an undertaking signed by them.
The attempt to lure workers was only partially successful as many of them saw through the management’s tactics.
After repeated demands by workers yielded no result, they resorted to an indefinite strike and sit-in protest inside the plant from October 11. More than 500 workers affiliated with the CITU participated in the strike, said some union members.
“The management continued to take vindictive action by recalling the bonus provided last year and deducted salary for the strike period even when the talks were in progress,” the worker said.
‘ABSURD CLAIMS BY MANAGEMENT’
The management came up with a claim of having a permanent leader for the union to hold talks on the demands of the workers. The CITU alleged that the demand of the management of India Yamaha Motor Private Limited was “absurd and anti-labour.”
Speaking to NewsClick, S Kannan, deputy general secretary of the Tamil Nadu state unit of CITU, said: “The trade union is a democratic space which follows some policies on electing office bearers, including their tenure. Having a permanent leader to hold talks is impossible. It is quite weird that the management, which shunts out executives and higher-level officials, is demanding a permanent representative from the union.”
CITU leaders, representatives of India Yamaha Motor Private Limited and labour department officials during the talks.
After attempts to obtain a stay for the strike from the court failed, the management unwillingly participated in the tripartite talks to arrive at an agreement. The workers alleged that the management utilised police to disrupt the strike, while the demands of the workers seeking the intervention of the state government remained unheeded.
Meanwhile, CITU has questioned the silence of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) government during the strike and condemned the use of police to suppress the struggle.
“The company representatives threatened to shut down the company in the presence of district administrators and labour department officials. Such is the audacity of these organisations that thrive on the labour of the workers,” Kannan said.
After hectic deliberations, the management agreed to hold talks with the majority union, for which elections, through a secret ballot, will be held before February under the supervision of the assistant commissioner of labour.
“This is a massive success for the working class, which continues to be exploited by different means. The spirit of the workers never receded. None of them left the campus for the whole duration of the strike”, Kannan said.
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