NEW DELHI — Strike-hit Maruti Suzuki, India's biggest carmaker, resumed "limited" operations on Monday and began talks to settle a labour row that has cost the company hundreds of millions of dollars.
The company, majority owned by Japan's Suzuki Motor Corp, said it restarted some operations at its strike-bound Manesar plant in northern India with the help of employees not taking part in the work stoppage.
But no cars at the plant, 50 kilometres (30 miles) south of New Delhi, were actually being produced.
"Production has started in a limited way. To start with, the welding shop has been made operational," Maruti said in a statement.
The Manesar factory has been hit by repeated labour unrest since June, costing the company at least 17.50 billion rupees ($356.5 million) in lost output.
India is Suzuki Motor's biggest foreign market and vital to its fortunes.
Maruti makes nearly half the cars sold in India and is credited with revolutionising transport in India by making affordable cars for a burgeoning middle class.
The 1,500 strikers ended an eight-day sit-in at the plant late Friday after a court order, and maintained a picket outside the factory on Monday.
Output at Maruti's main plant in nearby Gurgaon also resumed Monday after being halted late last week by a parts shortage caused by sympathy strikes at other Suzuki-owned factories.
But only those cars -- such as the Eeco family van -- that do not rely on parts from strike-hit units could be produced.
"Output will be a fraction of normal," a Maruti spokesman told AFP, asking not to be named in line with company policy.
Manesar normally produces around 1,100 cars daily while Gurgaon makes 2,800.
The Maruti spokesman said the company began talks with the strikers on Monday that were still continuing late in the day. He said he could not comment on their progress while union officials could not be reached.
Maruti's shares closed up 2.39 percent at 1,053.05 rupees on the Bombay Stock Exchange on news of the negotiations, after sliding to a fresh year's low earlier on Monday. The shares have tumbled more than 20 percent this year.
The carmaker blamed the labour unrest and a slowing Indian economy for a 21 percent drop in September sales.
The company also looks set to lose business during the upcoming Hindu festival season which accounts for a big share of sales when consumers traditionally make expensive purchases such as cars.
The most recent confrontation followed a 33-day lockout imposed by Maruti after it accused workers of sabotaging output -- charges they denied -- and insisted that they sign a "good conduct bond."
The union says Maruti reneged on commitments to reinstate a number of contract workers and 44 suspended employees, and deducted more wages than agreed for the lockout period.
Underlying the long-running dispute at Manesar is Maruti's refusal to recognise the strikers' union as well as what the employees say is a deteriorating work climate caused by company demands for greater productivity.
They also want cheaper contract staff, who make up a large chunk of Maruti workers, to be granted permanent status with better pay and benefits .
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