For Bata, labor had always posed major problems. Strikes seemed to be a perennial problem. Much before the assault case, Bata’s chronically restive factory at Batanagar had always plagued by labor strife. In 1992, the factory was closed for four and a half months. In 1995, Bata entered into a 3-year bipartite agreement with the workers, represented by the then 10,000 strong BMU, which also had the West Bengal government as a signatory.
On July 21, 1998, Weston was severely assaulted by four workers at the company’s factory at Batanagar, while he was attending a business meet. The incident occurred after a member of BMU, Arup Dutta, met Weston to discuss the issue of the suspended employees. Dutta reportedly got into a verbal duel with Weston, upon which the other workers began to shout slogans. When Weston tried to leave the room the workers turned violent and assaulted him. This was the second attack on an officer after Weston took charge of the company, the first one being the assault on the chief welfare officer in 1996.
In February 1999, a lockout was declared in Bata’s Faridabad Unit. Middleton commented that the closure of the unit would not have much impact on the company’s revenues as it was catering to lower-end products such as canvas and Hawaii chappals. The lock out lasted for eight months. In October 1999, the unit resumed production when Bata signed a three-year wage agreement.
On March 8, 2000, a lockout was declared at Bata’s Peenya factory in Bangalore, following a strike by its employee union. The new leadership of the union had refused to abide by the wage agreement, which was to expire in August 2001. Following the failure of its negotiations with the union, the management decided to go for a lock out. Bata management was of the view that though it would have to bear the cost of maintaining an idle plant (Rs. 3 million), the effect of the closures on sales and production would be minimal as the footwear manufactured in the factory could be shifted to the company’s other factories and associate manufacturers. The factory had 300 workers on its rolls and manufactured canvas and PVC footwear.
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