Nearly two years since their strikes began, over 400 workers at the Tata Nano plant in Sanand, Gujarat, still await wage increments. Representatives of the Bharat Kamdar Ekta Sangh (BKES)—a union representing the permanent workers at the Sanand plant—and officials from Tata have been haggling over new terms since March 2017. These recent negotiations are the third round in 18 months. “This is related to the wage hikes from 2015-2016. We have not even started discussing what the future should look like,” Hitesh Rabari, one of the representatives of the BKES, told me.
According to Rabari, the Nano plant in Sanand currently employs close to 3,000 workers who work on the assembly line. Of these, he said, nearly 500 hold permanent positions, while the rest work as contract labourers. Most permanent workers at the plant earn between Rs 12,000 and Rs 15,000 a month, Rabari told me. The workers are currently demanding revised wages close to Rs 20,000 each. “If you look at the automobile industry in the context of the ongoing inflation, then expecting Rs 22,000 to 25,000 a month is not much considering the years of experience working for the industry,” Rabari said.
A Tata Motors spokesperson with whom I corresponded over email, wrote that it was against the company’s policy to share the composition of the workforce and its wages. The spokesperson added that it would “suffice to say that it is as per the law of the land.” The email claimed that the incentives given to the workers were “among the best in the state.” According to a report published in the Business Standard in 2015, a shop-floor worker in the Maruti plant in Sanand at the time earned between Rs 15,000 and Rs 20,000. The report also noted that the average salary for permanent workers employed in motor-industry plants in the Sanand belt “starts from Rs 14,000 a month and could go up to Rs 40,000 a month.”
The permanent workers’ agitation for better wages began in 2015. In March, Rabari told me, Tata agreed to grant the permanent workers a wage hike of Rs 2,500 per month, effective from April. He added that, when implemented, it would have been their first raise since they began working at the plant when it was set up, in 2009. For a few months, the workers, who were unsatisfied with the raise, conducted discussions with the company to ask for a higher raise. According to several workers I spoke to, not long after these discussions began, the company declared that, effective from April, it would charge up to Rs 1,000 for the canteen and transportation facilities it provided to the workers—a significant jump from the lean Rs 50 it had been charging for each service before then.
This decision prompted many workers to reject the wage hike that was on offer. In early November 2015, they began protesting, and repeatedly raised concerns with the plant’s human-resources department. Rabari told me that some permanent workers, feeling helpless, agreed to accept the hike on offer and the charges for the facilities. “That’s when we decided to form a union,” Rabari said. On 14 December, Rabari told me, he and six other workers approached the state labour department to register their union, the BKES.