Toyota's Indian plant back on line

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IOL mot pic mar26 Toyota India strike . Striking workers shout slogans at an outdoor union meeting outside the Toyota Kirloskar Motor Private Ltd plants in Bangalore.

Bangalore, India - Toyota has resumed “limited production” after unionised employees at its Indian plant refused to return to work following an end to a company lockout.

The Toyota workers and the company's management at two plants near the southern Indian high-tech city of Bangalore are at loggerheads over pay issues, which they have been negotiating for 10 months.

In a statement issued late on Tuesday, Toyota said “We have started limited operations with the help of non-unionised team members of whom the majority are engineers and supervisors.”

However, union president Prasanna Kumar said: “Instead of resolving the issue amicably, management is misusing apprentices to make them work and has hired contract labour to do our job, which is skilled and involves stringent processes to ensure quality.”

Toyota said there was no truth to the union's claims that it was using apprentices to make the cars or had hired extra non-unionised labour.

The unionised employees refused to resume work after the company lifted the eight-day lockout on Monday.

The company had said workers could return from Monday provided they signed a good conduct pledge, after suspending some workers over accusations they halted production and made threats to supervisors.

Kumar said the workers were refusing to sign the good conduct promise because “it falsely implicates some employees as responsible” for misconduct that resulted in the lockout.

Toyota Kirloskar Motor Private Ltd is the Indian unit of the world's biggest automaker.

Its Bangalore complex produces about 310 000 vehicles a year, including Toyota's flagship Camry sedan, the Corolla, and the Prius hybrid, mostly for the domestic market, as well as the Etios for the South African market.

Toyota's union has demanded a pay hike of at least 4000 rupees (R715) a month, while the company is offering 3050 (R545), citing tough market conditions with Indian car sales set to fall for a second consecutive year.

Toyota has ruled out any compromise with the workers.

Vice-chairman for external affairs Shekar Viswanathan said: “Discipline is required when you are in an industrial environment with a large number of workers. They need to obey rules.”

“The words compromise and discipline don't go together,” the news agency quoted him as saying.

Toyota's plant problems come in the wake of other, sometimes violent, labour disturbances, at Indian car factories in recent years.

In 2012, workers at India's biggest automaker, Maruti Suzuki India, went on the rampage, killing one executive and injuring more than 100 in a dispute over pay and working conditions.

Toyota has appealed to the Karnataka state government to help end the row, while the union has asked the state's labour ministry to protect its members' interests.

Even with a slowing car market, global vehicle manufacturers have been investing in India in the belief the country has great growth potential with only 15 of every 1000 people owning a vehicle, compared to saturated western markets.


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