x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 January 2018

People's Car trouble

Labour disputes at the factory of the Maruti Suzuki, a car dubbed the "People's Car", are a symbol of the problems plaguing India's economy.

In February of this year, Maruti Suzuki, a car targeted at middle-class Indians, sold its 10 millionth vehicle. With a market share of just over 40 per cent, it has long justified the claim of being the "People's Car", as the marque's founder Sanjay Gandhi envisioned in 1971.

But now it seems, some of the "people" are rebelling.

This week's riot at Maruti's Manesar factory is the latest in a series of strikes and labour disputes staged by the factory's workers, many of whom are contract workers who enjoy less job security and lower pay than permanent employees. The factory is now closed indefinitely.

The incident resulted in the death of one executive and left 90 workers injured. Exactly what was the spark remains unclear: some employees claim that a supervisor had abused a lower-caste worker; the company denies the accusation. What is beyond doubt is that the lockout is harming not only workers but also people in surrounding villages who depend on the factory workers as their main source of income.

It's a symbol for the problems plaguing India's economy: inflation, low employment rates and salaries, corruption, and outdated labour laws. Maruti's makers must convince the public that their vehicle remains the People's Car. And some of those people are their own employees.