Maruti CEO Says It's More Important to Protect Colleagues -- Locks Out Workers at Riot-hit Plant

Workers chased Maruti executives with iron bars, wooden sticks and car parts, smashed machinery and torched offices in Wednesday's riot, witnesses said, marking India's worst industrial violence in recent memory.

India's top carmaker Maruti Suzuki said Saturday it was locking out workers at one of its plants hit by a riot in which a manager burned to death and nearly 100 other executives were injured.

 
The lockout at Japanese-owned Maruti's Manesar plant near New Delhi that produces 550,000 vehicles a year -- one-third of the company's annual output -- would continue until employee safety was guaranteed, the firm said.
 
"What's more important is the safety of my colleagues than producing some cars to make some money," Maruti Suzuki India chairman R.C. Bhargava said.
 
Workers chased Maruti executives with iron bars, wooden sticks and car parts, smashed machinery and torched offices in Wednesday's riot, witnesses said, marking India's worst industrial violence in recent memory.
 
Bhargava said "never in his wildest dreams" had he imagined such mob violence in which a senior manager would be "burned alive."
 
"Many companies have strikes, have labor issues -- how many companies have this kind of rioting?" asked an emotional Bhargava.
 
The charred body of the plant's human resources manager was found in a burned-out conference room. Police said he was unable to flee the flames because attackers broke his legs.
 
Two dozen managers remained in hospital, mainly with broken limbs, out of 96 admitted right after the riot, Bhargava said.
 
The plant -- one of two operated by Maruti in the area that makes some of the firm's top-selling cars -- employs 3,000 workers. It has been closed since the riot.
 
Bhargava said production would not restart until completion of an investigation and action was taken to guarantee a peaceful industrial climate. Any worker judged a risk would not be allowed back.
 
Analysts estimate the shutdown could cost Maruti 700 million rupees or $13 million a day.
 
In response to questions about the shutdown's length, Bhargava replied: "We will be very inefficient if we take six months."
 
At the same time, a senior executive who could not be named said would not "rush into a decision. Our managers have been hurt and traumatized."
 
Police have arrested nearly 100 workers and say some could face murder or attempted murder charges.
 
A protracted closure would be a blow for Maruti, whose profits slid 29% last year on the back of labor disputes over pay and union recognition that cost more than $500 million in lost production.
 
Bhargava dismissed speculation Maruti might move the factory as "absolute fiction."
 
The rioting erupted as union and management were discussing disciplinary action against an employee who Maruti said assaulted a supervisor.The union has said the violence was instigated by Maruti's "hired bouncers".
 
-Penny MacRae 
Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2012 
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