Mon, Jul 23, 2012 - Page 15 News List

Indian car plant closed after riot kills manager

CAR TROUBLE:Maruti Suzuki India said it had shut the plant to prevent more violence, while business lobbies worried about the incident hurting India’s business image

Bloomberg, India

A demonstrator shouts slogans against Maruti Suzuki and the Haryana state government on Friday during a protest in front of Haryana Bhawan in New Delhi, India.

Photo: AFP

Maruti Suzuki India Ltd, India’s largest carmaker, locked out workers at a factory near New Delhi and ruled out restarting production until a probe is completed into rioting that led to the death of a manager.

The carmaker, majority owned by Suzuki Motor Corp, will not import cars to make up for the loss of production at its Manesar factory, which accounts for about 40 percent of its total capacity, company chairman R.C. Bhargava told reporters in New Delhi on Saturday. He did not say how long the investigation would take or when workers would be allowed to return to the plant.

All 3,000 union workers at the plant will be charged with murder and attempted murder for the mob attack that caused the death of Awanish Kumar Dev, a human resources general manager, and at least 70 injuries, Indian police said on Thursday. The Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry, one of the nation’s two largest business lobbies, said on Saturday that the violence threatens India’s investment reputation.

“It’s a matter of deep concern for a country that seeks to project itself as offering an environment that is business friendly,” lobby president R.V. Kanoria said in an e-mailed statement, calling for authorities to deal “firmly” with the situation.

According to Maruti, the dispute began on Wednesday after a worker beat up a supervisor on the shop floor. The union then prevented management from taking disciplinary action, blocking managers from leaving the factory after work, Maruti Suzuki said. Workers attacked managers after talks to resolve the dispute failed, with employees setting property on fire and ransacking offices, according to the company.

The workers’ union has said it was keen to have a dialogue with the company to resolve the matter and that workers were attacked by bouncers working for Maruti while discussions were ongoing with guild leaders.

“Following the incidents of violence and arson at the Manesar facility, the management believes that if employees are asked to report for work at the facility, their lives will be endangered,” Maruti said in an e-mailed statement.

Maruti has no plans to relocate the plant out of Manesar in northern Haryana state, Bhargava said. A factory at Gurgaon, about 19.3km northeast of Manesar, is operating at full capacity, he said.

Suzuki has said production facilities were not damaged by the unrest.

Narendra Modi, chief minister of India’s Gujarat state, who is on a visit to Japan since yesterday, may meet Suzuki officials at Hamamatsu, the Press Trust of India reported on Friday, citing officials it did not identify. Modi’s visit has fueled speculation that he would convince Maruti Suzuki to consider a bigger plant than the 250,000-unit it has announced in the state, the news agency said.

Maruti’s board in October last year approved buying as much as 567 hectares of land for future expansion in Gujarat, where General Motors Co, Tata Motors Ltd and Ford Motor Co already have plants.

Gujarat’s Minster of State for Industries Saurabh Patel said media reports that Maruti may shift parts of its Manesar plant to the state was “far from truth and a figment of imagination.”

Maruti’s decision to invest in Gujarat was made long ago, he said in a statement on the Gujarat local government Web site.

Maruti and the workers’ union have blamed each other for the Manesar incident.

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