Pricol killing: Labour at the receiving end?

September 23, 2009

The killing of a manager at a factory in Coimbatore by workers, sparked off by the sacking of dozens of their colleagues, can in no way be condoned, but it raises questions on the state of labour in India in a time of economic pain.

Roy George, a 47-year-old vice president at Pricol, was attacked by workers wielding iron rods after 42 employees were dismissed from a unit of the auto parts maker.

These employees were fired after they disrupted work, company officials say. A senior official was quoted as saying George was targeted because he was “weaning away” employees from a union that was leading the protests.

Pricol workers have been agitating for over two years against the hiring of contract workers and on the non-payment of pay and other benefits. The firm has said these strikes have hit profitability and they could shift base.

The Tamil Nadu government in June prohibited the firm from employing temporary workers in core operations and ordered it to hike wages, implicitly validating the demands of the workers.

If one reads Pricol’s latest annual report, the firm itself blames the economy for its poor financials. There is no mention of an impact from labour unrest.

The International Labour Organisation, in its fundamental convention, says workers must have protection against harassment for being members of a trade union.

The ILO also makes it a priority that wages must be decided through negotiations on an equal footing by workers, employers and the government.

India’s Industrial Disputes Act too provides for protecting workers from being fired for reasons like worsening sales. Severance payments have to be made and these workers must be re-hired when conditions improve.

Many firms have sought to bypass these rules by increasingly hiring casual labour, a trend India’s labour ministry says is on the rise in the automobile sector.

Pricol is not an isolated case of worker action in the state. Tamil Nadu has seen a spate of agitations in recent times, most prominently in the factories of tyre-maker MRF, South Korean car firm Hyundai and mobile phone giant Nokia.

It also brings to mind a similar incident last year, when the chief of the Indian unit of an Italian industrial gear maker was killedby employees. This too was preceded by disputes over hundreds of dismissed employees.

Asian peer China too has seen its share of worker unrest as the communist nation moves towards a market economy and as workers fret and riot over the security of their jobs in a weakening global economy.

In July, workers in a steel mill threw their boss down some stairs to his death, as he was managing the sale of the state-owned plant to a private firm.

The question is thus, are such unfortunate situations brought about by labour practices?

Court rulings in India have made it clear the right to life includes the right to practice a dignified livelihood. Do arbitrary hiring and firing practices run counter to this?

And are these made harsher by the slump in the automobile industry, which has forced firms to cut production and reduce the number of workdays per week?

Did the Pricol incident come about due to criminal elements or was it an outcome of frustration with the course of peaceful agitation?

And would such incidents scare away investors into the state and the country?

(PHOTO: A man throws stone at police during a protest by Honda workers in Gurgaon July 26, 2005. REUTERS/Adnan Abidi/Files)


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The bureaucratic rules followed and the attitude taken by the today’s workers has not changed from the socialistic era. They are not pragmatic and are living in their own world.Today we have a free economy and license raj plus protected economy is no more, especially in industrial sector. To stay alive in the market we have to compete and our workers do not want to understand the change-even if they understand, our “leaders” misguide them. That is their bane. Only God can help them as they do not want to live in today’s world

Posted by Konda | Report as abusive

Unions are out of control in India. Unless unions drop their entitlement attitude, they will run the country into the ground. Laborers have been misled by the unions into thinking that having a job and great benefits is the birthright of every employee. Unless companies, large and small, are allowed to be flexible, how will they ever be able to be viable.

Posted by Chetta Thendi | Report as abusive

Indian business houses are not open to workers unions. Recently we saw the tussle between Jet Airways and its pilots- again on the issue of unionism. Not only factories, even hospitals have witnessed lockouts due to management versus workers union.The motive of business is profit maximization and the motive of union is workers welfare maximization. And the two don’t meet. Unless the motive in each case turns to “moderation” such strifes unfortunately will continue to happen.

Posted by R S | Report as abusive

usually for the last 2 years, the management has taken steps against their workers against the form of their new unit. every time at the time of deepavali they are taking steps like dismissal of the workers. if their finance position is really in bad condition, how they can steps only at the time of festival. now before 20 days of deepavali, they suspended their workers. workers means they will depend the bonus for their fulfil their expenses. but to avoid bonus to their workers, they were suspended their workers. last year also same thing was happened. in this case they don’t want to kill some person. just they want to show their anger. but unfortunately itwas happened. but it was sad. so the management only responsible for this accident and it is not preplanned. the government did not taken any steps for pricol problem. Atleast, we hope they will take good decision in this regard.

Posted by gajalakshmi | Report as abusive

The author seems to be making out a case that firing a worker should be done only at the request of the individual.After dismissing off the murder by a mere “can in no way be condoned,..” phrase, the rest of the article seems to be making out a case for doing just that.

Posted by Dara | Report as abusive

This article sits high on a hobby horse, using oppression of labor as an argument to condone the violence. It ignores the ground reality of the Indian and TN context, which has nothing to do with labour rights. This was an act of intimidation tactics. The attackers (who were not the average worker) sent out a strong “If you are not with us, you are against us” message– both to the scared workers and the posturing management. Trying to justify this with ILO and socialist talk, is playing into the hands of murderers.I hope the cops find and punish the culprits instead of pandering to a political largesse, like always.

Posted by Vidooshak | Report as abusive

Many people do not understand that collective bargaining is the right of labour, which adds the value to any economic activity (in other words, there cannot be products and services without labour, and therefore profits). If a strike is conducted genuinely, it means the worker is willing to forgo his wages to assert his demand. It is true that unions are commandeered by political elements who then become the ‘union leaders’ in some cases, but it is done at the instance of managements, not workers. The answer is to have free and fair elections to Unions by law, and weed out party politics from worker welfare. Many strikes will cease if the Government pays for welfare of all citizens, ensuring food, shelter, clothing, education and healthcare. Support higher taxes, welfare, labour rights and ensure social harmony.

Posted by Anant | Report as abusive

Trade Unions in Coimbatore have not been very active for quite some time now. Pricol was said to be one of the best companies in the region.Yet, as events unfold there is much to be pondered. The management has not been able to negotiate and find a settlement to the issue either with majority workers or with Government.The workers on the other hand do not seem to have realised the opportunities abundant in the region. Any worker who is really deprived for due benefits will be able to quit the job and find another one easily. They can also form a non-political group and have a cordial talk with the management or represent to the Government.Murdering an executive is certainly not the answer to the problem.

Posted by msp | Report as abusive

Everyone knows that Unions have political connections and always use the help of anti-social elements in these kinds of cases. I am pretty sure that anti-social elements/ Political party workers were involved in this brutal murder. The workers were dismissed as they had disrupted work.What else would you think the management will do – Sit and watch ! Democracy is taken for granted in India and people take undue advantage.

Posted by Raja | Report as abusive

The management handled the situation very pathetically. Rather solving the problem, their steps were to bring down the employees interest and wished to have an upper hand. They really may not thought the problem would have grown this much leading to an innocent that too in the level of VP’s murder. Eventhough there can be hundred reasons in the employees side, murder of a person on any ground is against the law and shows the absence of humanity.The culprits need to be brought in front of the law and severely punished to avoid such incidents in the future. Not to mention that the management is equally responsible for such an incident inside its premises and should face the law for not providing proper safe environment for every employees.

Posted by ABC | Report as abusive

The death of any person by violence is not acceptable in a human society. But truths always has a class character. For example the lone MLA of the CPI (ML)Liberation Shri Mahendra Singh was cold bloodedly fired at and murdered in a planned manner while campaigning during an election. Similarly, a high profile student leader of the CPI (ML) Liberation who graduated from JNU was again murdered in cold blood in a planned firing operation. The mainstream media and our so-called friends who find the murder of the VP at Pricol as planned machination by the AICCTU Union which is offshoot of the CPI(ML) LIberation have not found the above said murders of the leaders of CPI(ML)Liberation as horrific as the murder of the VP of Pricol. So the murder of leaders of the under-class is within the purview of democracy, while the murder of an executive of the upper-class is horrific and is an anathema to democracy. So the values and democracy of the working class and the owning class differs. Scores of leaders of the CPI(ML)Liberation are killed in a planned manner almost daily. This has not perturbed the consciousness of the so called democrats and developmentalists. The AICCTU has categorically stated that it does not subscribe to the theory of violence and murder in union activities but the developments which led to the murder of Shri Roy George in Pricol was something beyond the control and knowledge of the leadership of AICCTU. Anyone who poses to be a humanist or a developmentalist should ponder the root cause or systemic cause of such incidents, while condemning the murder of executives and leaders of the low class citizens with equal zeal. The discussed article is attempting to do the same and my hats off to the author.

Posted by Bhuvana | Report as abusive


It’s painstaking to read such unfortunate incidents..that too within the premises…Oh..LORD..

Leave aside these witch TRADE UNIONS..they do more harm than any constructive activities in majority cases in Indian context..

But if there are anyy unhealthy management practices that are unveiled,those involved should be sacked or given the right warning notice.
Let us trust the management acts in the most rightful manner and build the trust & zeal it build over the last 3 decades.

Posted by SARATHI1969 | Report as abusive