‘Selling the solution’ at Bajaj Auto’s Chakan plant

Murali Gopalan Mumbai | Updated on March 12, 2018 Published on August 04, 2013


Rajiv Bajaj recalls a quote of global marketing strategist, Jack Trout, to put in perspective the workers’ strike at his company’s Chakan plant.

“Solving the problem is easy, selling the solution is difficult,” is how the Managing Director of Bajaj Auto describes the state of affairs at the two-wheeler facility near Pune where operations have been affected for over a month now.

Simply put, the company has reiterated that it will not issue shares to the workers or scrap the wage agreement. These issues formed the core of the strike that broke out on June 25 and, today, the workers have pretty much given up on both demands.

To that extent, as Bajaj says, the problem has been solved but how will the message be put across to the Chakan workforce? It will, obviously, have to be conveyed by those people who called for the strike in the first place but the consequences could be catastrophic. For workers who have lost their pay for over six weeks now, they will obviously not take too kindly to the fact that this was a futile exercise in the first place.

“This is what I meant by saying that selling the solution is difficult,” Bajaj explains, adding that the ball is clearly in the union’s court as the management had made its stand clear from the beginning. “The problem is no longer between the union and management but the (union) committee and its 1,500 workers,” he says.

The striking workers are also pressing for the reinstatement of 22 suspended colleagues who will be facing an inquiry for acts of violence and destroying property at the plant. The number was barely 12 when the strike began in end-June but has nearly doubled since then.

According to Bajaj, the management has categorically refused to accede to this demand and believes that those employees who indulged in violence will be subject to a Government-led inquiry. If the committee concerned decides that some workers should be sacked, this verdict will have to be respected. On the face of it, it is very unlikely that the majority suspended will return to work.

This is the first strike at the Chakan facility in its 16 years of operations. Bajaj says the going has not been easy for the 800-and-odd striking workers (of which a large chunk has returned to their hometowns beyond Pune) who have not only lost out on their pay but also on a whole lot of other issues.

The cafeteria at Chakan is a case in point. It offers a sumptuous breakfast and lunch and in today’s trying times when food inflation is hurting homes, this translates into a daily spend of at least Rs 100 per individual. Combine that with a salary cut and it has not been easy going for the workers.

“It is just not about salary but also a loss of self-respect and pride. Nobody wants to be a laughing stock in the community,” adds Bajaj. As he puts it, production numbers are really not the most important thing right now. “It is about addressing the work culture and resolving the crisis. After all, this is the first strike at Chakan,” he says.

Even as the impasse eventually ends in the coming days/weeks, the Bajaj Auto management is only too aware that there is a lot of hard work ahead in forging stronger ties among the workers. Bonds could have been broken during the strike and the top priority is to ensure stability at the workplace.


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Published on August 04, 2013
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