Kolar: After failed previous attempts of getting justice from the factory officials on various issues, on 12th Dec 2020 thousands of Wistron factory workers began protesting at the factory premises. The angry workers caused much damage to factory property.
Since then the factory site has been cordoned off by the police force, not allowing anyone near the factory. However, it is being reported that about 150 workers have been arrested till now, and no details are available officially.
In order to get a clear picture of the whole event, All India Central Council of Trade Unions (AICCTU) visited Narasapura Industrial Estate in Kolar district and also went to several villages to speak with the workers employed in the Wistron factory.
Worker Woes in Wistron Factory
Wistron is a Taiwan-based multinational corporation that assembles iPhones for Apple Inc.
It has its establishment at Narasapura Industrial Estate, which was operational in the post-lockdown period.
1343 regular/permanent and 8490 contract workers- consisting of engineering graduates, ITI diploma holders, and PUC/10th standard pass, employed in this factory were supposedly sourced from six contractors.
It is found that the role of the contractors and the nexus between them and Wistron is suspicious, and the latter engaged in an unfair labor practice to deny the workers their rights as regular/permanent workers.
Moreover, each worker is compelled to work 12-hour shifts every day/night. The workers do not have any liberty to opt for a shift as per their convenience. Even women are made to work the night shift.
Most importantly, the wage payment in Wistron is irregular and erratic. Although the workers were promised monthly wages of Rs. 22,000, in reality, they received substantially fewer wages despite having worked overtime on all days without any leave.
Overtime wages are not paid either. The salaries being credited to the workers’ accounts are reducing every month. Workers also noticed a fudging of their attendance to deprive them of their hard-earned money.
There is no workers’ union in the factory, nor is there any proper system to redress their grievances.
How the Protests began at Wistron
Although the workers conveyed their grievances to the Company officials on numerous occasions, they did not receive any justice.
Wages for the month of November were not paid to the workers despite their constant requests. On 12th December, once again, the workers requested the HR and other Wistron officials for their due wages. But once again their appeals were turned away.
Thus, the workers began protesting. Eventually, things got out of hand, and some protestors even broke glass windows and overturned vehicles.
However, according to some of the workers, it was some outsiders who came into the factory and resorted to breaking things. Even from the videos, it can be seen that most of them were bystanders to some others indulging in damaging the company’s properties.
Who are the Contract Workers
Most of the workers employed at the Wistron factory were migrant workers employed on a contract basis from other states like Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, and so on. They are also from other districts of Karnataka and from various villages in the taluks around Narasapura. There are workers from Hoskote and Bengaluru too.
All the contract workers are young men and women. It is said that all job applications by those above 26 years are summarily rejected by the Wistron officials.
All of these young workers are from extremely poor backgrounds, mostly belonging to the Dalit community. Their poverty was further aggravated in recent times due to the unplanned months-long nation-wide lockdown.
Their colleges are closed due to the Covid pandemic. Thus, the promise of a monthly Rs.22000 wage was the sole reason for which these young men and women accepted work at the Wistron factory- just to bring their own families out of the tremendous economic crisis.
However, as mentioned earlier, the payments in Wistron are irregular and they are yet to receive their due wages.
Since the incident on 12th December, these young workers are getting messages from the employer directing them not to report for duty until further communication, which left them worried about the future of their job and due wages.
On the other hand, they are fearful of the witch-hunt being perpetrated by the police. Even police brutality was noticed in a disturbing video that is being circulated on social media.
It has been seen in this video that some workers are made to lie down on the ground on their stomachs and are beaten by the police. Due to the fear of arrest and subsequent torture in police custody, many workers have switched off their phones and are living in anxiety.
According to some news reports, Apple Inc. is probing whether its contract manufacturer Wistron violated its supplier guidelines or not. Reportedly, Apple Inc. will also examine whether there was any disparity in the wages agreed upon and whether the workers were paid according to the norms or not.
However, the response from the State Government is not satisfactory. It condemned the destruction of property in the event on 12th December and showed little sympathy for the plight of the workers.
The State Government failed to realize that it was an act of desperation on the part of the exploited workers, who did not have an avenue of grievance redressal inside the Wistron factory, nor did they have the fortune to get the State’s Labor Department assistance in order to ensure justice for them.
Labour Law Violations
After a thorough investigation, AICCTU observed few gross violations of labour laws perpetrated by the Wistron factory and negligence on the side of the State Government. They are as follows:
- The workers were not paid wages on time, which is a violation of Section 5 of the Payment of Wages Act, 1936.
Wistron failed to pay the workers their minimum wages and overtime wages, which is a violation of the Minimum Wages Act, 1938 and Section 59 of the Factories Act.
- The compulsory 12-hour work shift is a violation of Section 51 of the Factories Act, 1948, and this clearly falls within the scope and ambit of the words “forced labor” under article 23.
- Section 19 of the Minimum Wages Act, 1948 assigns power to the inspectors who can inspect such establishments and ensure compliance with the various provisions of the law. However, it seems that such an inspection was not followed in this case.
- As per Rule 23 of the Karnataka Minimum Wages Rule, 1958 and Rules 7 and 9 of the Karnataka Payment of Wages Rule, 1963, several details such as – the rates of wages payable to different classes of workers, hours of work, wage periods, dates of payment of wages for two months in advance, names and addresses of the Inspectors having jurisdiction, etc. have to be displayed in English and Kannada at the establishment and at the work-site. However, neither such details were put up, nor did the State Government conduct an inspection of the Wistron factory.
- The absence of any institutional mechanisms to address grievances is a violation of Section 3 of the Industrial Disputes Act, 1947.
- Several conditions, upon satisfaction of which the women were supposed to be assigned night shifts, were listed on a notification dated 20.11.2019. However, none of these conditions were met.
These are just a glimpse of the violation of workers’ rights.
Now, even Wistron has admitted that ‘some workers were not paid correctly’, they have issued an apology and have removed India’s VP.
The State Government chooses to be completely silent on these core issues and shows more interest in arresting the workers in connection with the event of 12th December.
AICCTU in its letter to the Chief Minister, the Labour Minister, Additional Chief Secretary (Labour), and the Commissioner of Labour has demanded that the State Government drop all charges against the workers. Also, as an immediate measure, it must release the list of all arrested persons and ensure that their families are informed in adherence to Article 22 of the Constitution, Section 50(2) of the Code of Criminal Procedure, Section 41B(b) of CrPC, and other mandatory stipulations under sections 41, 41-A, 41-D, 50-A, 57 and 60-A of the CrPC.
The State Government must understand that the filing of criminal cases and indiscriminate arrests of workers will further deteriorate their situation.
Rather, it is expected that the State Government will follow its constitutional responsibility of listening to the grievances of the workers, investigating the matter, and acting accordingly.
The full report can be found in the following link: