Over 20,000 workers of the Hindustan Aeronautical Limited (HAL) ended their indefinite strike on October 23, 2019 following an order issued by the Karnataka High Court to the workers of the Bengaluru plant of HAL to resume work immediately. The workers had begun their strike on October 14, 2019. The management of HAL had approached the High Court claiming that a loss of Rs 17 crore is being incurred every day because of the strike.
According to the order of the High Court, workmen were even restrained from continuing any other form of agitation including go-slow production or work to rule actions among others.
HAL, a Public Sector Undertaking, is one of the most sophisticated weapons production company of the country. HAL produces and services fighter aircraft, jet engines and helicopters. Apart from its main production and maintenance units in Bengaluru, it has units in Hyderabad, Koraput, Korwa, Kanpur, Lucknow and Nashik, Workers in all these plants participated in the indefinite strike which was called by the All India HAL Trade Unions Coordination Committee (AIHALTUCC). The strike is reported to be the biggest strike in the 79 year old history of HAL.
HAL is a profit making company, a NAVRATNA. In 2019, HAL recorded a turnover of Rs 19,400 crore and a profit of Rs 2,282 crore (after tax). It was a record turnover for the company. The immediate reason for the strike was the refusal of the HAL management to conclude a wage revision agreement that was satisfactory to the workers. According to the terms of the previous agreement of the management with the workers unions, a new wage revision agreement was to be signed by 2017. The HAL management deliberately dragged on negotiations for over two years and refused to concede the just demands of the workers. The workers were left with no option but to go on strike.
According to the unions, the offer of the management was such that many workmen who had worked in the company for 15-20 years would actually get less pay then they are currently getting. The Director of Finance of HAL justified the management’s refusal to concede the just demands of workers saying “We need to be careful of labour cost while maintaining growth." According to a management official, “At present, the labour cost is around 24% of the company's revenue. We will try and bring this down to 20% by optimising our workforce." The management has threatened that it would cut back on regular workforce, and increase the number of employees hired on a contract basis to achieve this.
“The management has so many weapons in its arsenal. It can file FIRs against us, it can harm our workers by reducing their wages, it can disrupt our protests. But we trade unions have only weapon - that is the strike. We are exercising our basic right,” Suryadeva Chandrasekar, chief convenor of the AIHALTUCC had said during the course of the strike.
The strike of the HAL workmen has revealed how all parts of the state machinery, including the judiciary, are used to attack workers' struggle for rights. “Though the strike has been called off, the wage issue still remains unresolved,” said Surya Devra Chandrashekhar, chief convenor of AIHALTUCC. The workers of HAL are planning their next course of action to win their just demands.