Fri, Mar 21, 2014 - Page 15 News List

Toyota suspends workers at India plants over unrest

AFP, BANGALORE, India, and WASHINGTON

New Toyota cars are displayed on a sales lot at Toyota Marin in San Rafael, California, on Wednesday.

Photo: AFP

Toyota Motor Corp has suspended 17 workers at its Indian auto assembly plants which were temporarily closed this week following protests against delayed pay rises, a union and company official said yesterday.

The workers were suspended for misconduct and indiscipline over the protests at the two factories in southern India, which the company says included threats against management and deliberate assembly-line stoppages.

“The suspended employees are all members of the union. The lockout was declared more due to indiscipline than on wage hike demand, though it all began with that,” a company official in Bangalore said.

A union representing the workers demanded Toyota immediately withdraw the suspensions, saying there had been no official warning beforehand as required under labor laws.

Toyota Kirloskar Motor Ltd Union president Prasanna Kumar said it was willing to continue to work with the company and the state labor commissioner to resolve the dispute.

“There was no charge sheet against them as per the state labor laws prior to suspension. We have sought the state government’s intervention for lifting the lockout and withdrawing the suspension orders,” Kumar said, adding that the union was notified late on Wednesday of the suspensions.

The world’s biggest automaker said on Monday it was suspending production at the factories, which employ about 6,400 workers near Bangalore, after efforts to hammer out a labor deal failed.

The two factories produce about 310,000 autos annually, a range of models that include the flagship Camry sedan, the Corolla and the Prius hybrid, mostly for the domestic market.

Meanwhile, the company is to pay US$1.2 billion to settle US criminal charges that it lied to safety regulators and the public as it tried to cover up deadly accelerator defects.

The firm eventually recalled 12 million vehicles worldwide in 2009 and 2010 at a cost of US$2.4 billion as the scandal over sudden, unintended acceleration spread and tarnished its once-stellar reputation.

Dozens of deaths were blamed on the defects which caused vehicles to speed out of control and fail to respond to the brake.

“Toyota’s conduct is shameful,” US Attorney General Eric Holder said in announcing the settlement on Wednesday. “Rather than promptly disclosing and correcting safety issues about which they were aware, Toyota made misleading public statements to consumers and gave inaccurate facts to members of Congress. In other words, Toyota confronted a public safety emergency as if it were a simple public-relations problem.”

In reaching the settlement, Toyota admitted that it lied when it insisted in 2009 that it had addressed the “root cause” of the problem by fixing floor mats that could trap the accelerator.

The US$1.2 billion fine is the largest financial penalty that the US Department of Justice has ever imposed on an automaker.

Toyota agreed to pay about US$1.1 billion in 2012 to settle a class-action lawsuit launched by US owners of vehicles affected by the recalls.

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