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Tata Motors declares lockout at Dharwad plant

Tata Motors, India's biggest commercial vehicles manufacturer, has declared a lockout at its bus manufacturing plant in Karnataka's Dharwad, following a continued strike by workers.

Dissatisfied with the revision in wages and subsequent suspension of a dozen staff members, a section of workers at the plant are alleged to have incited others to disrupt work. The company decided to shut down operations on Saturday at the plant, which makes buses under the Tata Marcopolo brand.

"Every year, the company undertakes an upward wage revision and has continued to do so even in adverse market conditions. Some dissatisfied workers had incited fellow workers to disrupt work, causing substantial financial and customer confidence loss but we continued discussions with them in good faith; despite substantial loss to the company, we took a lenient view of these actions when the workers resumed work," said a company spokesperson in an emailed response.

"However, with continued disruption, jeopardising the company's operations and reputation," workers resorted to an "illegal strike again on January 31. Considering these, we were compelled to resort to a temporary suspension of operations on February 1. In view of not improving the situation, and our apprehension of a congenial peaceful working atmosphere not prevailing, we were forced to declare a lockout from February 6," the statement said.

The Karnataka labour commissioner has called for a meeting on Monday with trade unions and Tata Motors Marcopolo to revoke the suspension of production at the factory, according to sources.

This is not the first time the plant witnessed labour trouble. In April last year, the plant faced a similar situation but the issue was resolved amicably.

Abhishek Desai, president, Tata Motors Marcopolo Workers Association, said, "We want to resolve the crisis. If there is no production, thousands of workers would lose jobs and harm industrialisation of the Dharwad region." The plant produces 60 buses a day for both the local market and markets such as Sri Lanka and Bangladesh.

"We did witness a considerable drop in average production. However, the plant is equipped to manufacture 15,000 units a year and we are confident of catering to market demands," said the company spokesperson. Dharwad is one of the youngest plants of the Mumbai-based company which began operations in 2009. The plant makes fully-built buses for intra-city and inter-city transportation that include 16 to 54-seater standard and 18 to 45-seater luxury and low-floor city buses.

Desai blames an external union - Trade Union Centre of India. The union and workers of the plant had carried out a mass protest on January 31.

R Manasayya, president of the Trade Union Centre of India, who led a rally against the company on Saturday, declined to comment.

When asked when the issue was expected to be resolved, the company spokesperson said, "The company will not tolerate any coercive methods for pressurising with unreasonable demands and indiscipline."

Tata Motors has had peaceful labour relations at all its plants compared to other automotive companies, like Mahindra & Mahindra and Hyundai to name a few, which have experienced similar strikes in recent years, leading to loss in production.

Despite laying off 4,500 non-permanent employees from its truck-making plant in Jamshedpur, during the peak of the slowdown months in 2013, according to reports then, the company did not have to face a backlash from its workforce.

IN A NUTSHELL Dharwad unit is one the youngest plants of Tata Motors
  It began operations in 2009
  Firm makes fully-built buses for intra-city and inter-city transportation