Center For Workers Education

for building a democratic labour movement in India

Story of Recent Toyota Workers Struggle in Karnataka

Toyota Kirloskar Motor (TKM) is an Indian subsidiary of Japanese automobile giant Toyota and has two manufacturing plants in Bidadi industrial estate 30 kms from Bangalore city. Toyota Motor Corporation holds controlling stake of 89 percent in TKM and the remaining 11% equity stake is held by Indian multinational Kirloskar group. The two plants, situated 30kms from Bangalore, produce 310,000 vehicles a year and employs 6,400 workers. While one plant produces the flagship Innova models and Fortuner SUV, the second plant has been rolling out Corolla Altis, Etios, Etios Liva and Camry.

There are a total of 6,400 employees workers out of which 2200 are contract workers. Almost all 4,200 regular workers are formal union members and contract workers even if not formally members support the cause of the union.

The issues behind the conflict

According the union accounts published in media, the major issue was the denial of any wage increment last year. Moreover, the union was also continuously raising the demand for improvements in safety standards on the ground that in last few years many workers many workers have been injured on the production line.

There were almost 10 months of negotiations on the charter of demands put forward by the trade union. Bipartite negotiations failed and then the Labor Department of the Government of Karnataka conducted 7 tripartite meetings in order to reach a settlement. These conciliation efforts have also not resulted in any agreement.

According to the accounts of the management published in media that as these conciliations were going on, certain sections of workers resorted to work stoppages, abuse and threatening of supervisors and the company was left with no other option but to declare a lockout of the premises. According to the accounts of Additional Labour Commissioner published in media, the workers were demanding a Rs. 4,000 pm ($65.5) hike. For over two months, a two-hour strike every day has dented production. However, the trade union version of the story denies such charges.

The lockout was declared on March 16. As the lockout entered the second week, management also demanded that workers sign a “good conduct bond,” pledging they would not engage in any slowdowns, strikes or other job actions, but the workers refused. Later the lockout was lifted but the management was not ready to take workers in without signing good conduct bond.

10 leaders of the TKMWU began a hunger strike on April 2 against such repressive measures of the management.

Repression

On April 6, state police violently attacked dozens of Toyota Kirloskar Motors (TKM) workers on hunger strike. Two of the workers, already weak from hunger, were severely injured and hospitalized. According to accounts of the Shanmuga Gowda, vice president of the Toyota Kirloskar Motors Workers’ Union (TKMWU), Early Sunday at around 1 am in the night nearly 40 policemen suddenly appeared and using violence forced workers on hunger strike to board in the company bus to go to hospital. They bounced, beat and kick the workers. Only after large number of workers ran to the spot, the police violence was ended. Management also suspended 30 workers.

Solidarity

TKMWU  took initiative to unite the unions in the supply chain of Toyota, and with their efforts Toyota Ancillary Workers Federation was formed. Workers of 13 supplier companies are part of this federation. Formation of this federation increased the strength and collective bargaining power of TKMWU as well as unions part of the federation. They held a huge rally on February 28 in Bangalore city.

According to trade union members, they also invited the representatives of Maruti Suzuki Workers Union and donated Rs. 300,000 to support their struggle. Every member of the union contributed for this. According to them union members in Toyota supplier plants also donated an additional Rs.100,000.

End of Conflict

Relay hunger strike of workers continued till April 19th 2014. Lastly the state government issued an order on 19th April that the lockout was not in accordance with the provisions of the law (section 10(3) of the Industrial Disputes Act), the management’s condition to sign the ‘good conduct’ letter before entering the plant does not arise. All issues, including wage hike and suspension were referred to the industrial tribunal for adjudication. Therefore the protest ended and the work was resumed.

Police attack locked-out Toyota workers in India; http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2014/04/11/toyoind-a11.html;

Toyota India workers back to duty after ending 36-day strike; http://zeenews.india.com/business/automobiles/auto-focus/toyota-india-workers-back-to-duty-after-ending-36-day-strike_98197.html

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