Home / Companies / News /  How the Indian dream of working in 'iPhone company' went wrong at Wistron

For contract workers at Taiwanese manufacturing giant Wistron, the dream of working at the "iPhone company" has soured since violence broke at the site following allegations of violation in wage payments and work hours.

The state police have so far picked up over 150 contract workers and looking for 5,000 more who were allegedly involved in the incident that led to the closure of the manufacturing unit at Narasapura, about 60 km from Bengaluru.

Also Read: How schooling in rural India is plunging into darkness

“For months now, we worked hard, woke up at 4 am to reach the pick-up point on time and toiled for 12 hours everyday, as this was a dream to build a settle down," said a contract employee, requesting anonymity.

The promise of a steady job and 20,000 in monthly salary was a dream come true for many such workers from poor families, educated in rural colleges and with parents working as daily wage labourers.

The Karnataka government, which is eager to bring in more investors and boost job creation, gives companies a free-hand to operate even if it means compromising on labour practices, according to activists and elected representatives.

A report from the state's Department of Factories, Boilers, Industrial Safety & Health this week has pointed out several violations by Wistron, including non-payment of salary dues to housekeeping staff, not explaining the repercussions of 12-hour work shifts to its workers and gaps between practices in the factory and statutory stipulations.

The report added that the company's HR department does not comprise "personnel of sound knowledge of labour laws."

Apple Inc., for whom Wistron produced the iPhone-SE and iPhone-7 at this plant, has initiated a probe to determine if its manufacturing partner did indeed provide safe working conditions, treat workers with dignity, respect, act fairly and ethically as part of its supplier code of conduct policy.

The role of six contractors are being probed who allegedly siphoned off the lion’s share of the wages paid to workers by the company.

“We got just one thirty-minute and three 10-minute breaks in our 12 hour shifts,work six days a week," the employee cited above said.

Promises of being paid 300 more per day if employees forgo breaks, additional remuneration for working during festival holidays and other such lures, workers and their families say, were never fulfilled.

An independent report submitted by the All India Central Council of Trade Unions (AICCTU) cites multiple violations including the system of exploiting workers in the name of contracts and the conditions in which they work among other allegations.

"We bring the best of practices worldwide to our plant and operations and want to protect workers’ interests. We will work together with the State Government to ensure plant operations are resumed at the earliest," Sudipto Gupta, managing director, Innovation Business Group at Wistron Smart Devices, said in a letter to the state government on Monday.

The company said it remains optimistic about its future in the state.

"We are committed to make electronics manufacturing succeed in India, which is key to our global plans, and look to expand our presence in this very important market as we go forward," Gupta said in his letter.

Human Resources experts point to problems with the work culture some of these companies bring with them from their parent countries.

In 2014, at a press conference by Toyota Kirloskar Motors' workers union on strike, an office bearer said, “they were expected to work like the Japanese".

The HR expert cited above says Japanese and Swedish companies, among others, have done relatively well to make their work environments more inclusive than say those from China and Taiwan who often “put up a wall" between Indian workers and senior executives.

Much of the recruitment of these contract workers are through word of mouth and people in the villages in the vicinity waste little time to take up any job available at the many factory sites spread across the 700-acre of Narasapura Industrial area.

Several parents, whose children have been picked up by the police, have been waiting outside the district superintendent of police’ office, about 10 kms away from the factory site.

“My son used to waste his time playing volleyball and with friends and we forced him to take up this job and now we may lose him if they put him in jail," says a teary-eyed Ataullah.

His 21-year-old son K.A.Shoaib was picked up on Sunday evening by the police and is lodged in a cell just next to the SP’s office.

K.S.Narayana Swamy’s son and daughter also worked for Wistron and the boy is now in jail.

Anand flashes a printout which clearly states that his relative, who is now in jail, was on leave on Saturday.

Karthik Reddy, superintendent, Kolar, says that around 26 people have so far been released and investigations are on to determine the offences, a claim refuted by the families waiting outside his office.

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