A “heated” exchange over alleged extreme work conditions at a Toyota car manufacturing plant in Karnataka’s Bidadi has taken an ugly turn, with the company shutting the plant for an indefinite period following a sit-in strike by a section of the workers.
The development has now led the entire strength of workers – over 3,500 – to stage a round-the-clock dharna in front of the plant’s gate, with slogans against the management for resorting to ‘anti-worker’ measures during the last two months in a bid to pick-up the production, among other issues.
Over 3,500 workers are currently staging a round-the-clock dharna, following the indefinite lock-out, as declared by the company. Courtesy - Special Arrangement
Earlier on November 9, over 1,500 auto workers led by the office bearers of Toyota Kirloskar Motor Employees’ Union (TKMEU) had begun a sit-in strike. They brought the assembly lines at one of the plants in the premises to a halt. The workers were protesting the suspension of one of their union members.
The member, who also currently holds the position of joint secretary in the employees’ union, was suspended on November 6. The move was prompted, the company claims, by his involvement in an act of misconduct.
A day after the sit-in strike, on November 10, the management of the TKM declared a lockout “of all Team Members in Grade-8,” barring those involved in essential services until further notice.
“In the present violent atmosphere, it is impossible to carry on with the manufacturing activities. The company is seriously concerned about the physical violence and its consequences. The company cannot risk the lives of its officers,” the management noted in its lockout notice while calling the sit-in-strike by the workers as “illegal”.
Referring to the suspension of the union member, the company accused him of being a “chronic offender” against whom “disciplinary proceedings” shall be initiated. The company alleged that this time the said worker “indulged in abusing the shop manager in foul and unparliamentary words and threatened him with dire consequences.”
Confirming the episode that took place on “some day last week”, a protesting union member told NewsClick over the phone that “it was a heated argument over extreme work conditions at the manufacturing facility.” The union office-bearer, who is now suspended, was only sharing the grievances of the workers with the shop manager, according to this worker who spoke on the condition of anonymity fearing action against him.
“To meet the festive demand of cars this year, the company has pushed workers to horrible work conditions since past two months,” the worker claimed. “A process that earlier would require six workers, is being forced to be manned by two without any compromise over the production time,” he added.
The Bidadi facility, housing twin plants, is the sole manufacturing unit of the TKM, the Indian subsidiary of the Japanese automotive manufacturer Toyota.
Post the coronavirus-induced lockdown, production in the unit, which manufactures some of the company’s flagship models such as Innova, Fortuner, etc., resumed in July with reduced manpower.
The worker lamented that even though all of them were paid during the lockdown period, later a “push towards producing more cars” within the same time length as earlier with less staff strength is leading the workers “to nearly die with fatigue.”
Questioning the work conditions in the past have invited notices against individual workers, he added.
Multiple calls made by NewsClick to the company office at Bidadi went unanswered. The TKMEU President was also unavailable, despite repeated attempts. The latter has, however, shared similar apprehensions while speaking to The Hindu.
On Tuesday evening, a meeting was convened between the management and the union in the presence of the Additional District Labour Commissioner, but to no avail, NewsClick has learnt.
The management has maintained that the lockout decision will be rolled back only after ‘normalcy’ is restored. “We have once again appealed to the union to cooperate in restoring normalcy so that operations can be restarted,” Raju Ketkale, Deputy Managing Director, TKM, was quoted by the Deccan Herald as saying.
The union is mulling to challenge the notice on the grounds that it declares a “partial” lock-out enforced against only the Grade-8 employees, which involves the auto workers and not the management including supervisors and others (who are graded 7 and above).