Canadian Manufacturing

Auto workers riot, burn Suzuki plant in India

Body charred beyond recognition in a conference room; 40 managers hospitalized.



MUMBAI, India—Top Indian carmaker Maruti Suzuki has shut one of its two factories in India after rioting sparked by a labour dispute killed one person and injured dozens of others.

Spokesman Puneep Dhawan said the plant stopped production Wednesday night because of fire damage caused by rioting workers.

The company is still trying to identify a dead body found charred beyond recognition in a conference room, he said.

The company, which is a subsidiary of Japan’s Suzuki Motor Corp., said in a statement that at least 40 managers and executives had been hospitalized with injuries.

Labour unrest is growing in India as soaring inflation squeezes worker salaries even as mass media and conspicuous consumption stoke aspirations. The widespread use of contract workers to side step India’s strict labour laws adds to friction.

India’s fast-growing auto industry, which has attracted many foreign investors, has been at the centre of some of the highest-profile disputes. In 2008, a mob of workers at Graziano Trasmissioni India, part of the Swiss Oerlikon Group, lynched the chief executive and crushed his skull with hammers and metal bars.

Honda, Ford, General Motors and Hyundai, among others, have also struggled with labour unrest in India, but nothing as persistent or violent as the agitation at Maruti Suzuki’s Manesar plant.

Maruti Suzuki suffered three crippling strikes in 2011, which cost it market share and blocked production of tens of thousands of vehicles.

The Manesar plant makes Maruti Suzuki’s most popular cars, the Swift and the DZire. Last year’s strikes caused a production shortfall of about 60,000 vehicles, said Deepesh Rathore, chief auto analyst for IHS Global Insight in India.

“I think the root cause is that the Maruti working standards are quite tough,” he said. “Maruti has a very distinctive Japanese style of working. The workers on the shop floor spend long hours without breaks and the job is monotonous.”

He said Maruti pays “decent salaries,” but they are eroded by the high cost of living in the area.

The Press Trust of India reported that police had arrested 88 Maruti Suzuki workers on charges including murder and damaging property.

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