Deadly riot closes Indian car plant

 

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

The plant stopped production last night because of fire damage caused by rioting workers.

"The plant is burnt in sections. You cannot make any cars," spokesman Puneep Dhawan said.

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

He said no decision had been taken on whether to reopen the 550,000 vehicle a year plant in Manesar, in the north Indian state of Haryana.

The company, a subsidiary of Japan's Suzuki Motor Corp, said in a statement that at least 40 managers and executives had been taken to hospital with injuries.

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

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

According to Maruti, the unrest was sparked when a worker beat up a supervisor. The company said the union prevented management from disciplining the worker, blocked exit gates and "held the executives hostage."

After talks broke down, workers "attacked members of the senior management, executives and managers," and ransacked the property, the company said.

The Maruti Suzuki Workers Union, said in a statement that a supervisor had "abused" and made "casteist comments" against a low-caste worker.

Instead of taking action against the supervisor, management suspended the worker, the union said.

The union said management had sent in hundreds of "bouncers" to attack the workers with "sharp weapons and arms" and set fire to part of the factory.

Maruti Suzuki shares plunged 8.4% in Mumbai trade.

India's fast-growing car 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.

AP

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