Maruti workers end plant sit-in but strike goes on

NEW DELHI — Striking workers ended their eight-day occupation of a plant belonging to India’s largest carmaker, Maruti Suzuki, but the two sides remained at loggerheads, the company said Saturday.

The 1,500 workers took control of the Manesar plant in northern India belonging to Japanese-controlled Maruti Suzuki in a bitter labour dispute that has cost the company hundreds of millions of dollars in lost output.

“The strikers left the plant late last night (Friday). It went peacefully. No force was used but they are continuing their agitation,” a Maruti spokesman, who asked not to be named in line with company policy, told AFP.

The workers halted their sit-in after police moved into the factory earlier on Friday to enforce a court ruling ordering the employees to vacate the plant where tensions have been high since June.

“We have decided to honour the High Court order and so we are vacating the premises. However, we will continue our agitation outside the factory gate,” the president of the Maruti Suzuki Employees Union Sonu Gujjar said.

The workers set up camp 100 metres (yards) from the plant.

The dispute has brought output at the car company, 54.2 percent owned by Suzuki Motor Corp, to a total halt.

The work stoppages have cost Maruti at least 17.50 billion rupees ($356.5 million) in lost output since June, the company spokesman said.

India is critical to Suzuki Motor’s fortunes as it is its biggest foreign market. Maruti sells nearly one out of every two cars in the country and is credited with revolutionising transport in India by making affordable cars for a burgeoning middle class.

Production at Maruti’s other plant complex in nearby Gurgaon, outside the national capital, ceased on Friday due to parts shortages caused by sympathy strikes at Suzuki-owned factories in the area.

“Maruti is not producing any cars at the moment,” the Maruti spokesman said. “We will assess the situation on Monday to decide when we might be able to resume production at Gurgaon.”

The strike comes at a bad time for Maruti as it coincides with the Hindu festival season when it is considered lucky to make car and other costly buys.

The latest confrontation at Manesar began days after staff returned following a 33-day lockout imposed by Maruti after it alleged workers were sabotaging output.

Maruti has accused the strikers of reneging on an October 1 pact in which they pledged not to disrupt production.

The union, in turn, has accused Maruti of going back on the deal by refusing to recall some workers and deducting more wages than agreed for the time they were locked out.

Underlying the row is workers’ resentment at Maruti’s refusal to recognise their union and growing use of contract workers who are paid far less than regular employees and have few rights.

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