Industrial peace in Karnataka, it would appear, is better than it was three or four years ago, going by the state government’s annual data on strikes and lock-outs. But the situation is far from rosy on the ground, especially in the state capital, Bangalore, which recently saw a month-long deadlock at the Toyota Kirloskar Motor, the only car manufacturer located in the southern state.
Production in Toyota’s two plants located 35 kilometres south of Bangalore is getting back to normalcy after the state government intervened in the standoff which began over wage negotiations. It was Toyota’s second labour problem in 15 years of operations, the previous incident having occurred in 2006. It, incidentally, also comes four years after the Japanese car maker started a second factory on the same campus, which lowered the average age of its workforce.
What the deadlock—which became significant because it involved 4,200 union employees —also did was to put the focus on the industrial tensions underlying Bangalore’s manufacturing sector. For it came amid other incidents of labour trouble in the city, notably at Hindustan Coca-Cola Beverages and spring manufacturer Stumpp, Schuele & Somappa. Industry bodies have called it a worsening industrial relations situation that needed the government’s attention to address complexities in labour laws, among other issues, besides suggesting that labour groups were becoming more active. While organised labour needed to appreciate that many companies were in a situation of just trying to survive, there was also a need for all stakeholders to take a fresh look into the dynamics of industrial relations, according to one prominent industry body.
Trade unions in the Bangalore region agree there is an underlying unrest, but allege that company managements were fuelling this by pointing to a sluggish economy when it came to wage negotiations even if they were making profits, apart from an increase in their use of contract labour. “To maintain their living standards, employees are forced to demand more. It is unrest created by the managements. Every negotiation turns into unrest,” says S Meenakshisundaram, state secretary, CITU. “If unskilled workers are also doing skilled jobs with just a month of training, the regular worker with a higher skill-set will fear that he will be eliminated from the job.”
Toyota, in one of its recent press conferences, had maintained that its salaries were competitive and that its level of wage hikes would also impact the entire ecosystem around it. At present,