Strike-hit Toyota India resumes 'limited operations'

Toyota Kirloskar Motor Private Limited employees gather outside the facility after the company halted production at its two factories amid a labour dispute regarding wages on the outskirts of Bangalore on March 20, 2014. Japan's Toyota said in a
Toyota Kirloskar Motor Private Limited employees gather outside the facility after the company halted production at its two factories amid a labour dispute regarding wages on the outskirts of Bangalore on March 20, 2014. Japan's Toyota said in a statement Tuesday, March25, 2014, that it had resumed "limited production" after its unionised employees refused to return to work following an end to a eight-day company lockout. --FILE PHOTO: AFP

BANGALORE (AFP) - Japan's Toyota said in a statement Tuesday that it had resumed "limited production" after its unionised employees refused to return to work following an end to a eight-day company lockout.

The Toyota workers and its management at two plants near the southern 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 non-unionised team members of whom the majority are engineers and supervisors," Toyota said in a statement.

It said an earlier report that the company had hired 1,000 contract workers to fill in for the striking employees was untrue. The employees refused to resume work after the company lifted an eight-day lockout on Monday.

Toyota Kirloskar Motor Private Ltd, the Indian unit of the world's biggest carmaker, is using its non-union employees to start rolling out cars from the twin factories.

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

The carmaker had said workers could return from Monday provided they signed a good conduct pledge, after suspending some 30 employees over accusations they halted production and made threats to supervisors.

Toyota's union has demanded a pay hike of at least 4,000 rupees (S$82) a month, while the company is offering 3,050 rupees, citing tough market conditions with India car sales set to fall for a second year in a row.

Union president Prasanna 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's plant problems comes in the wake of other, sometimes violent, labour disturbances, at Indian car factories in recent years.

In 2012, workers at India's top carmaker by sales, Japan's Suzuki Motor's unit Maruti Suzuki India, went on the rampage, killing one executive and injuring over 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 labour ministry to protect its members' interests.

"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," Mr Kumar alleged.

Toyota denied the union's claim it was using apprentices to make the cars.

Even with a slowing car market, global vehicle manufacturers have been investing in India in the belief the country has great growth potential with just 15 out of every 1,000 people owning vehicles, according to industry figures, compared to saturated Western markets.

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