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Strike-hit Toyota India resumes ‘limited’ operations

AFP-JIJI

Toyota Motor Corp. said it has resumed “limited production” after unionized employees at its Indian plant refused to return to work following an end to a company lockout.

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

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

However, union President Prasanna Kumar said: “Instead of resolving the issue amicably, management is misusing apprentices to make them work and has hired contract labor 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 nonunion labor.

The union members refused to resume work after the company lifted the eight-day lockout Monday.

The carmaker had said workers could return starting 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 carmaker.

Its Bangalore complex produces some 310,000 autos annually, including Toyota’s flagship Camry sedan, the Corolla and the Prius hybrid, mostly for the domestic market.

Toyota’s union has demanded a pay hike of at least 4,000 rupees (¥6,800) a month, while the company is offering 3,050 rupees (¥5,200), citing tough market conditions with Indian car sales set to fall for a second year in a row.

Toyota has ruled out any compromise with the workers.

“Discipline is required when you are in an industrial environment with a large number of workers. They need to obey rules,” Shekar Viswanathan, Toyota Kirloskar Motors’ vice chairman for external affairs, told the national news agency Press Trust of India.

“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, labor disturbances at Indian car factories in recent years.

In 2012, workers at India’s top carmaker by sales, Suzuki Motor’s Maruti Suzuki India unit, went on the rampage, killing one executive and injuring more than 100 others 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 labor ministry to protect its members’ interests.