Karnataka to help restart Wistron3 min read . Updated: 17 Dec 2020, 05:46 AM IST
- Non-payment of wages and long work hours were not the only reason that triggered the rampage
Some temporary staff at Apple Inc.’s contract manufacturer Wistron’s Kolar plant had not been paid for the past three months and women employees were provided inadequate facilities, Karnataka’s labour minister Shivaram Hebbar said.
The iPhone maker’s attempt to expand manufacturing in India ran into difficulties after workers at its supplier’s plant near Bengaluru rioted on Saturday over non-payment of wages, causing extensive damage and forced the local and central government to take steps to restore the confidence of investors.
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“This is an unfortunate incident, and we are in touch with the company and the Union government and are doing all we can to help restart the factory within the next 10-15 days," Hebbar said in an interview on Wednesday.
“Around five contractors have not paid workers for the last three months, and this has angered workers. Provisions such as 8-12 hour shifts, inadequate arrangements for women on night shifts are some of the issues. Wistron is a new company (in Karnataka), and workers never came to us with these problems earlier. When incidents like these happen concerning industries that give employment to 10,000-20,000 people, it sends wrong signals."
Hebbar spoke amid intensified attempts by the state and central governments to gather more details on the rioting by workers at the plant. Both the central labour ministry and the Department for Promotion of Industry and Internal Trade (DPIIT) have sought detailed reports on the violence that could dampen investment sentiment and the ‘Make in India’ campaign.
Hebbar’s comments come after two different reports submitted by state departments listed labour rights violations, including non-payment of salaries, inadequate communication on the repercussions of 12-hour shifts and failure to follow statutory stipulations under the law.
One of the reports questioned the role of Wistron contractors who are suspected of having siphoned off workers’ wages. This report said Wistron’s human resources department has not been adequately set up with “personnel of sound knowledge of labour laws".
Non-payment of wages and long work hours were not the only reason that triggered the rampage. Contract workers at the Wistron plant said there were cases of assault by company staff, unexplained wage cuts, mere 50-minute breaks in a 12-hour shift and ill-treatment.
Promises to pay an additional ₹300 per day to employees if they forgo breaks and additional remuneration for working in the festive season were not kept, workers and their families said. “We went to the contractor on Saturday who then sent us to the company, and both were not telling us who was responsible for the discrepancies, which fuelled anger," said a contract worker, requesting anonymity.
Police said the clash among workers escalated into violence, arson, manhandling of other workers and looting of factory machinery, laptops and iPhones.
“Our job is to reassure and play a supporting role in reconstruction, which we are doing," said Gaurav Gupta, principal secretary of the Karnataka industries department.
Meanwhile, Wistron slashed its estimate of losses in the incident to ₹43 crore from ₹437 crore, as its share prices recovered after a free fall on Tuesday.
Wistron and Apple didn’t respond to queries.
The incident is being compared with the violence at Maruti’s Manesar factory in July 2012 when an HR manager was killed.
Trade union activists and opposition party legislators said government authorities often ignore labour rights to bag investments. Apple Inc., for whom Wistron produced the iPhone-SE and iPhone-7 at this plant, is probing whether the contract-manufacturer provided safe working conditions and treated workers with dignity as has been laid out in a code of conduct for suppliers.
An independent report by the All India Central Council of Trade Unions has spoken of “sweat-shop" like conditions.
Much of the recruitment of workers is done through word of mouth, and nearby villages have grabbed the opportunity to get their children to take up any job available at one of the many factories run by companies such as Honda, Mahindra and Scania in the 700-acre Narasapura industrial area, where the Wistron factory stands/ Workers came from neighbouring Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu and from other regions, often make do with pitiable living conditions in one of the villages surrounding Kolar city.
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