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One dead, ten hurt in ex-worker's car rampage

A disgruntled worker slammed his car into employees at a Mazda factory in south-west Japan today, killing one and injuring 10, police said.

Toshiaki Hikiji, 42, was arrested about an hour later on attempted murder charges after fleeing in his car from Mazda's Ujina plant in Hiroshima prefecture.

Japanese media reports said Hikiji was a contract worker who had been let go in April. He bore a grudge against the car maker and went there with a knife with the intention to kill, they said.

But Mazda Motor Corp spokesman Kotaro Minagawa said he had quit in April on his own, citing personal reasons, after working just eight days at the plant, and there had been no reports of problems.

The rampage revived memories of a stabbing spree in Tokyo's packed electronics shopping district two years ago, also by an angry car worker, who killed seven people when he slammed a truck into a crowd and then stabbed onlookers.

In today's incident, Hikiji ignored security at the gate and drove into the plant as workers were arriving. The dead man was named as Hiroshi Hamada, 39, a permanent employee, known as "seishain", the company said.

One male worker remained in critical condition, although details were not available, Mr Minagawa said.

"I pray for the spirit of the man who was killed, and pray for the recovery of the 10 who were injured," Mazda president Takashi Yamanouchi said in a statement.

For decades during Japan's modernisation, its major companies guaranteed jobs for life and offered relatively good benefits in return for loyalty.

Video: Killer's car rampage

But car makers, pinched by cost-cutting efforts amid globalisation, are increasingly relying on workers called "haken", who are hired on less attractive contracts than regular workers, often through job-referral companies.

Koetsu Aizawa, professor of economics at Saitama University, said the discriminatory dual system of employment was common at major Japanese companies because regular workers, hired under a lifetime employment system, cannot be fired.

"Japan still needs to foster the idea of equal pay for equal work," he said. "What many Japanese feel is that regular workers do little work but have big attitudes and get big money. It is a huge social problem."

The manufacturers can better respond to changes in market demand with haken workers because they cannot generally dismiss regular employees.

At Hiroshima-based Mazda, contract workers such as Hikiji are hired on a six-month basis, but have contracts directly with Mazda and not with referral companies, which the car maker stopped using last year, Mr Minagawa said.

"They help us when things get busy because production fluctuates," he said of the contract workers, but declined to disclose details of the wage differences.

The Ujina plant is Mazda's main car assembly plant, churning out popular models like the Demio, known as the Mazda2 overseas, and the Roadster.

The plant, which employs 7,000 people - 400 of them on temporary contracts - was operating as normal after the rampage, Mr Minagawa said.

In the 2008 case, 25-year-old Tomohiro Kato, who worked at a Toyota Motor Corp affiliate, had posted angry messages on the internet about his job and is believed to have carried out the killings in a fit of rage.

Such crimes are rare but rising in number in Japan after years of lacklustre economic growth widened the gap between the haves and have-nots. Disaffection among marginalised individuals can grow intense because of unrealistic expectations about success.

Japan has extremely strict gun-control laws and its culture encourages conformity and passivity.