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Manager killed in Suzuki riot

Site of violence: Maruti Suzuki’s plant at Manesar, where Alto production has stopped after fatal riots.

Workers attack Suzuki’s Indian car plant, killing one and injuring 100 managers

Suzuki logo20 Jul 2012

ONE manager was killed and another 100 executives hospitalised when workers rioted at the plant of India’s largest car-maker, ransacking offices and attacking management.

Production has stopped at Maruti Suzuki’s giant Manesar plant – which produces the Alto city car for Australia – and there is no indication of when it may resume.

Police have arrested 88 workers on charges including murder and attempted murder, the Press Trust of India reported.

Police have reportedly taken over the factory while investigations continue. Nine policemen were injured in the riots.

The dead executive is Awanish Kumar Dev, the HR manager at the Manesar plant, who the company said was “burnt to death by the mob”.

Other managers told frightening tales of being attacked by mobs of workers armed with metal door beams and other pieces of equipment from the plant.

Maruti Suzuki said the unrest started on Wednesday night when a supervisor at the plant was beaten by a worker, who was then dismissed. The union – which argues that the worker was the victim of a “casteist” remark – insisted he be reinstated.

 center imageLeft: Manesar plant production line. Below: Suzuki Alto.

The situation then escalated and the workers blocked the exit gates so that the company management, including two Suzuki executives from Japan, could not leave after working hours.

One supervisor, SA Siddiqui, told local TV from hospital that management was caught unawares by the angry workers.

“Suddenly, a lot of people came running and held me and started beating me,” said the supervisor.

“They beat me with rods, machine components, or whatever they could lay their hands on. They were beating me like one would beat animals.

“We ran and somehow saved our lives. We managed to jump the wall and reached the hospital.” Another executive, who did not want to be named, said the workers “grabbed whatever they could, split up into small groups and attacked us”. He was being treated for a broken elbow and injuries to his head, ribs and legs.

Maruti Suzuki’s statement described the attacks as “pre-planned, unprovoked and gruesome”.

“In simultaneous attacks in different parts of the factory, the mob beat the managers on their head, legs and back, rendering many of their victims bleeding and unconscious,” the company said.

“They also ransacked offices, broke glass panes and wantonly damaged property. Finally, they set the offices on fire.

“After being terrorised, abused and attacked in this manner by the mob, recovery for the injured will not be easy.

“By any account, this is not an ‘industrial relations’ problem in the nature of management-worker differences over issues of wages or working conditions. Rather, it is an orchestrated act of mob violence at a time when operations had been normal over the past many months.” The company described its dead HR manager, Awanish Kumar Dev, as “an outstanding professional and team member, compassionate, soft spoken and deeply committed to cordial industrial relations”.

In the past year he was said to have been instrumental in taking “far-reaching steps to enhance the well-being and working conditions of workers” at Manesar, where only 19 months ago he hosted a group of Australian media, including GoAuto.

Maruti Suzuki is India’s largest producer of passenger cars with a market share of around 45 per cent. Suzuki owns 54.2 per cent of the company and the rest is in the hands of local entities.

The Manesar plant near New Delhi sprawls over 240 hectares and produces up to 550,000 vehicles a year.

Suzuki Australia communications manager Andrew Ellis told GoAuto the company had enough Alto stock on the ground to keep dealers supplied for three months, plus another three months’ worth of cars currently en route to Australia.

There had already been speculation that Australian supplies would in future be switched to a new plant in Thailand recently opened by Suzuki, but Mr Ellis said it was too early to talk about future supply arrangements.

Maruti Suzuki has another plant in India with a capacity of 700,000 units a year and is building a third that is scheduled to open in mid-to-late 2013.

An industry analyst said the Manesar plant was important strategically because it produced mainly diesel-engined cars (including Swift and SX4) that were gaining favour as petrol prices increased.

“We are still assessing the total damage to property and facilities from the acts of arson,” the company said.

“What is clear is that the office facilities have been burnt beyond repair, as have the main gate, security office and the fire safety section.

“We will shortly announce our decision on the next steps with regard to resuming operations in these facilities. We request our customers and partners to bear with us in this extraordinary situation.

“A few of our colleagues remain serious. While the rest are recovering from the physical injuries, it will take them a while to come out of the trauma.”

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