Thursday, 29 September, 2022
HomeIndiaNot just Wistron, Karnataka battling tougher, longer labour crisis at Toyota Kirloskar...

Not just Wistron, Karnataka battling tougher, longer labour crisis at Toyota Kirloskar plant

Workers at car maker’s plant in Bidadi allege ‘inhuman working conditions and harassment’, company calls strike ‘illegal’. State govt tries to break impasse.

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Bengaluru: Karnataka has, in recent days, been in the news for the violence by angry employees at the Wistron factory manufacturing iPhones in Narasapura, Kolar district, which led to the company firing its vice-president of India operations and Apple putting it on probation.

But just over 75 kilometres away in Bidadi, an even bigger management-employee tussle has been going on for nearly a month and a half, without getting as much attention.

The Toyota Kirloskar Motors (TKM) manufacturing unit in Bidadi has been locked out for 40 days. And though this is hardly the first such lockout in Indian automobile history, what makes this different is that there has been absolutely no dialogue between the protesting employees and the management since 9 November, though the state government has stepped in to try and break the ice.

The workers’ main allegation against TKM is that they are being forced to work longer hours and are pulled up for taking short breaks. Workers’ unions say the Bidadi plant, which was producing close to 300 cars a day in two shifts, was forced to increase production by 60 cars during the pandemic.

“While we have been trying to find a solution, the issues of harassment and increased workload with no additional manpower or pay have to be addressed urgently,” said K. Prasanna Kumar, president of the TKM Employees’ Union (TKMEU), who has been sitting on a protest along with 3,000 other employees out of the total worker strength of about 6,500. In total, around 3,500 employees are unionised.

The company, meanwhile, has insisted through official statements that the strike is illegal, though it has later taken a more conciliatory stance.

Sources in the company say that every attempt is being made to come to an understanding with employees, but the situation continues to remain “volatile”, and they are unable to lift the lockout until they are assured that work will continue peacefully.

Industries Minister Jagadish Shettar, a former Karnataka CM, said the government is looking to resolve the issue before the end of the year.

“We are talking to the employees as well as the management. We need to first get them to meet amicably. The government is ready to hold talks on their behalf, but the complaints are quite grave and we need to tread carefully,” Shettar told ThePrint.

Asked about the workers’ salary not being paid since 9 November, Shettar said that issue is also being addressed.


Also read: Message we get is we don’t want you – Toyota stops expansion in India saying taxes too high


How the lockout unfolded

The lockout comes at a time when automobile manufacturers have been trying to get back on their feet after the Covid-induced lockdown.

The Bidadi plant produces Toyota’s Innova Crysta, Camry, Fortuner and Yaris models.

Prasanna said workers at the TKM plant would take around three minutes to complete the final assembly of an Innova, but the company has been trying to increase production with less manpower and longer working hours. “This means that an Innova will now have to be assembled in 2.5 minutes, which is not only inhuman but also an illegal practice,” he alleged.

“The biggest issue that we face is that if we produce a vehicle, and due to time constriction it ends up defective, it’s the employees who will be blamed and sacked,” he added.

Prasanna said the lockout was first declared on 9 November, after a group of employees went to speak to the management the previous day about the “inhuman” working conditions. The workers alleged that the management treated them disrespectfully, and suspended one employee on “false allegations”.

“They did not meet us to hold talks; rather, they just announced an indefinite holiday starting with the next shift. By suspending our comrade, they wanted to set an example — that we will face the same fate,” Prasanna claimed.

Chandan, another office-bearer of the TKMEU, said: “Around 2,500 of us decided to sit and seek their intervention, but they announced the lockout. They do not care for our lives. They care about the production of cars, which should not stop at any cost.”

Although the lockout was briefly lifted on 23 November, after Toyota Kirloskar decided it had had enough according to company sources, and got non-unionised employees to sign an undertaking, saying it would protect them from the unions. About 1,000 employees signed it, but the unions intervened with a complaint to the Karnataka labour department that employees were being forced to sign an undertaking that they would follow the instructions of the company and not disrupt peace. The lockout was reinstituted the same day.

On the same day, TKM was launching a new model of its Innova Crysta multi-purpose vehicle.

On 3 December, the 1,000 employees resumed production, albeit at a much smaller scale, the company said in a statement six days later, which has been shared with ThePrint.

“As on 3 December 2020, the company would like to confirm the resumption of production involving supervisory and other staff and workmen who have signed the undertaking despite the continuation of the illegal strike by a group of workers,” it said.

“On 12 November, TKM started operations at the Plant 1 to meet the current market requirement. With relentless support from the government and the police force, the number of workmen returning to work is witnessing an increase daily,” the statement read.

“The lockout continues, but we are working with a skeletal staff,” said a company official on the condition of anonymity.

“As of now, we have 1,000 employees who have signed the undertaking and are helping with the operations,” said a TKM official who wanted to remain anonymous.


Also read: After Toyota’s tax crib, govt says GST is fair, auto makers must cut royalty to parent firms


Allegations of harassment

Chandrakant M., another protesting worker, alleged that they were being “harassed” by their seniors.

“If we do not deliver on time, we are verbally abused. We step away from the machine for a break, we are warned. If it is repeated even for a brief while, we are penalised with salary cuts,” Chandrakant said.

His sister too works in the factory, and has also been suffering, he claimed.

“The women face even tougher situations. They are not even allowed to take proper toilet breaks. It’s nothing but inhuman. An international company like this, you would expect some humanity and good working conditions.  I brought her to work here. She is well taken care of at home, but I am responsible for bringing her here and facing this torture,” he said with a sniffle.

Chandan added: “Around 1,000 employees have quit the company in the last two years. The company is also forcing people to voluntarily leave by just offering them a severance package. About 200 have left, taking the severance package. They are doing this to bring in contractual employees who will listen to them at any cost.”

Toyota Kirloskar Motors’ stand

According to sources in the Karnataka industries department, TKM claimed in a letter to the minister in charge, Jagadish Shettar, that the “trade unions had led a rebellion due to which there is a lack of congenial and safe atmosphere” at the plant.

TKM refused to respond to specific allegations being made by these workers, saying whatever it had to say has already been said in the two statements issued in November and December.

In the statement issued in mid-November, it had called the employees’ strike “illegal”.

“For the plant operations to run smoothly & effectively, a minimum workforce of 90 per cent in each shift is required, and in view of the current situation, it is not viable to carry on with manufacturing activity with such (a) small number of workmen reporting to work,” it said.

“Moreover, (a) few members are also instigating the illegal strike and disrespecting other members who want to return to work or those who are already working and taking on additional burden caused by the strike,” the statement, also shared with ThePrint, read.

“As a part of the ‘sit-in strike’, the team members had unlawfully stayed in the company premises and had compromised Covid-19 guidelines, thereby leading to a potentially volatile situation at the factory. This led TKM authorities to declare a lock-out for unionised employees at its plant in Bidadi, bearing in mind the safety & well-being of its employees,” the company stated.

According to sources in TKM, a section of the union was making “derogatory and provocative” speeches, and indulging in defaming the organisation and threatening officials.

However, in the 9 December statement, Toyota Kirloskar said: “TKM, as a committed & responsible corporate, has the utmost dedication towards growing its business sustainably and generating employment opportunities in the most cordial manner. Discipline will always be at the core of TKM’s operations & the company will continue to provide a conducive working environment at all levels without compromising the basic work culture.”


Also read: Public row over Toyota is counter-productive. Govt must listen to industry & revive demand


Govt intervention

ThePrint spoke to the Chief Minister’s Office, where officials confirmed that a meeting took place between TKM vice-chairman Vikram Kirloskar, Industries Minister Shettar, Labour Minister Shivaram Hebbar and Deputy CM Ashwath Narayan.

The meeting was held to seek the government’s intervention to resolve the stand-off. While instructions have been given to Chief Secretary T.M. Vijay Bhaskar to hold meetings with company executives to approach the unions through the labour department, sources say the stalemate continues.

“We have asked for a detailed report on the issue. We need to resolve the issue at the earliest as Toyota Kirloskar is not just a brand or investment for Karnataka. It provides employment to thousands. But we will ensure that if anybody is found harassing or violating human rights, they will be booked accordingly,” Deputy CM Narayan told ThePrint.

Karnataka Labour Commissioner Akram Pasha met with the workers and the company officials in closed-door meetings on 18 December. After the meeting, he was quoted as saying by MoneyControl that both the strike and lockout were illegal. But they are yet to come to a solution. Several attempts to reach Pasha over phone calls and text messages were not successful.

Political turn

Meanwhile, the issue has also taken a political turn, with former CM and Ramanagara MLA H.D. Kumaraswamy of the Janata Dal (Secular), in a series of tweets, has accused the Yediyurappa government of going slow in its investigation into the matter, and “supporting the stand of middle-managers or acting on flimsy allegations”.

“There seems no solution in sight for the striking employees of Toyota Kirloskar’s Bidadi plant. The strike has been on for nearly two months and the differences between the workers and management, issues related to middle managers and the government’s apathy, may also be the reasons for the continued impasse,” Kumaraswamy tweeted.


Also read: Toyota or pakora? Modi govt must choose


 

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3 COMMENTS

  1. Do not buy Toyota cars, and end up in defective vehicles due to strike
    These vehicles are made with workers pain, sweat, blood, hunger

  2. Highly paid workers always create problems. This is one such example. What management asked is give an undertaking that they will behave properly inside the factory. This is the right time for management to fix camera all over and give evidence in future troubles. What Toyota management asking is correct. There are millions of workers work for minimum wages in this country. Just because they have money and mightysupport of opposition leaders, the employees behave irresponsibly. If the erring employees are not taught a lesson, no companies will invest in India. Toyota should not allow it’s workers to behave like public sector employees.

  3. Having worked in Industries, I know that since early 1990s, Karnataka hasn’t faced any serious labour unrest. After the tech companies bloomed in the mind 90s, the trade unions practically became refundant. Given a choice, all managements are exploitative. Especially, the foreign companies try to indulge in labour related practices, which are impermissible in their countries. Trade Unions are necessary. But, the new labour codes strengthens the hands of managements, and puts industrial workmen at a disadvantage. Their collective bargaining power will be further reduced.

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