India: Toyota workers head back to the factory floor


More than 4,000 Toyota workers in India recently returned to work following a month-long lockout.

Some 4,200 employees of Toyota Kirloskar Motor Pvt Ltd, located in the Bidadi industrial area of Bangalore, were locked out by company management on 16 March after weeks of work disruptions following a breakdown in talks with the union over wages.

Unions had asked for an increase to the minimum monthly wage of 4,000 rupees (US$65) as opposed to the 3,050 rupee (US$50) salary hike proposed by the management.

When members of the management received threats from a handful of disgruntled workers, the company decided to lockout the entire permanent workforce, who were then forced to camp outside the factory gates in a makeshift tent from 17 March until 21 April.

In addition, 25 workers went on hunger strike – four of which were hospitalised.

In a statement issued by Toyota, the Japanese automaker claims it had “no other option but to declare a lockout to ensure the safety of its workers and management personnel,” after 10 months of negotiations with the Toyota Kirloskar Motor Employees Union (TKMEU).

Some workers – instigated by the union, Toyota Kirloskar claims – threatened supervisors and disrupted production of over 25 days.

But TKMEU president Prasanna Kumar contests these allegations.

“Our crime was that we took the initiative to bring in all the workforce of Toyota and its 15 ancillary units under one banner — the All India Toyota Ancillary Federation,” he says.

“These stories were concocted by the management to throw us out,” Kumar charges.

On 19 April, the Karnataka state government brought the lockout to an end by declaring it illegal.

Prior to this, on 24 March, the management had withdrawn the lockout on the condition that workers sign a good conduct undertaking before returning to work.
“But we considered it as a major violation of our rights so we refused to sign it”, says Kumar, and action supported by Section 10(3) of the Industrial Disputes Act.


Selective discrimination

Tellingly, only TKMEU members were affected by the lockout, with Toyota management continuing its regular production activities by engaging unskilled, contract labourers and trainees.

“This itself is a violation of the labour act,” says Sreenivasan, a TKMEU worker at Toyota Kirloskar.

“How can inexperienced non-technical contract workers work on the normal production line?” he asks?

“The lockout was unjust, illegal and amounts to unfair labour practices,” says Meenakshi Sundaram, General Secretary of the Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU), Karnataka.

He also described the management’s actions as a clear attempt to create “fear” amongst the workers.

Toyota Kirloskar Motor Pvt Ltd was established in 1997 and production commenced in 1999. It subsequently opened a second plant in Bidadi in 2011 and recently sold its one millionth vehicle in India.

But despite the impressive growth of the company, conditions for the workers are very difficult.

There are two shifts: 05.35 to 14.30 and 14.45 to 23.35. “We have to work continuously for hours in a same position,” says a worker by the name of Harshvardhan.

“Most of us are of age 30 or below, but the majority of us suffer from health issues like joint pain, back pain, piles, hernia and mental stress. There are cases where our colleagues committed suicide due stress and depression,” he says.

The rapid growth of the car industry in Asia – particularly in India has been accompanied by industrial unrest across the sector.

From workers at Maruti Suzuki to Indian car marker Mahindra, the sectors young workers are qualified, organised and ready to demand their rights in the face of excessive workloads and poor working conditions.

As for the workers at Toyota Kirloskar, 30 workers remain suspended and are currently fighting to be reinstated. But if previous management skirmishes in the sector are anything to go by, these workers are unlikely to get their jobs back.