Toyota suspends workers at India plants over unrest

BANGALORE, India (AFP) - Toyota has suspended 17 workers at its Indian auto assembly plants, which were temporarily closed this week following protests against delayed pay rises, a union and company official said on Thursday.

The workers were suspended for misconduct and indiscipline over the protests at the two factories in southern India, which the company says included threats against management and deliberate assembly-line stoppages.

"The suspended employees are all members of the union. The lockout was declared more due to indiscipline than on wage hike demand, though it all began with that," a company official in the city of Bangalore told AFP.

A union representing the workers demanded Toyota immediately withdraw the suspensions, saying there had been no official warning beforehand as required under labour laws.

Toyota Kirloskar Motor Union president Prasanna Kumar said it was willing to continue to work with the company and the state labour commissioner to resolve the dispute.

"There was no charge-sheet against them as per the state labour laws prior to suspension. We have sought the state government's intervention for lifting the lockout and withdrawing the suspension orders," Mr Kumar told AFP, adding the union was notified late Wednesday of the suspensions.

The world's biggest automaker said on Monday it was suspending production at the factories which employ about 6,400 workers near Bangalore after efforts to hammer out a labour deal failed.

Toyota said some employees had resorted to deliberate stoppages of the production line, abuse and threats to supervisors and continuous disruptions to business for the past 25 days.

Company and union officials had been trying to sign a new contract for the past 10 months, with the government helping mediate negotiations.

The two factories produce about 310,000 autos annually in a range of models including the flagship Camry sedan, the Corolla and the Prius hybrid, mostly for the domestic market.

The strife at the factories comes after unrest at other Indian car plants.

A riot in 2012 at Maruti Suzuki's Manesar plant near New Delhi saw workers chase supervisors with iron rods, killing a personnel manager and injuring close to 100 other managers.

The riot, which workers' representatives at the time said was caused by unhappiness over wages and working conditions, saw India's leading carmaker by sales lock out workers for a month and cost it some US$250 million (S$316.5 million) in lost production.

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