ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Industrial Violence and Labour Reforms

The pursuit of the low-cost flexibility model by employers to hire and fire workers and the use of unconventional methods to defend and secure labour rights by trade unions and workers have produced varied and sometimes dangerous outcomes, such as in the Maruti conflict. These conflicts highlight the need for a comprehensive set of reforms that take into account the agendas of both sides.

On 18 July 2012, workers’ protests at Maruti Suzuki India in Manesar over the suspension of a worker turned violent and a part of the factory was set on fire. Awanish Kumar Dev, the human resources general manager, died in the melee and several other managerial staff sustained injuries ranging from the mild to severe. Not surprisingly, details about the persons involved and the sequence of events vary with confusion and vested interests domina­ting many reports (Hemalata 2012; ­Sehgal 2012). The “mysterious” (Sehgal 2012) violence has once again set in motion a debate on labour reforms among employers and in the business press (Business Standard 2012a). This note is to review the arguments for such reforms and place them in perspective.

The pluralistic theory of industrial relations (Kerr et al 1973) predicts that in the initial stages of industrialisation, ­labour indiscipline and “primitive” forms of unrest such as rioting, sabotage, industrial espionage and violence will be high, but as industrialisation continues, the system matures with an acceptance of collective bargaining and arbitration. Once industrial conflict is institutiona­lised, it takes place in predictable forms and is conducted according to a set of rules and regulations. The commitment of the industrial working class gradually increases because of the positive role of trade unions and collective bargaining (via relatively higher urban wages and employment security) and of personnel management. The institutionalisation of industrial conflict blunts the class conflict threat and assures stability to the system.

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