Wistron Bengaluru plant. (Image Credit: Reuters)

Wistron Bengaluru plant. (Image Credit: )

Meanwhile, Apple, for whom this factory was producing various parts for iPhones, has said that it has placed Wistron on probation and the company will not be receiving any new business from Apple until complete corrective action is taken.

Stacy Pereira

Aweek after violence that broke out at Wistron factory in Karnataka’s Narasapura, the company has admitted its mistake and offered apology to workers over non-payment of salaries to them. The company has also decided to remove its India vice- Vincent Lee following the violence.

“This is a new facility and we recognise that we made mistakes as we expanded. Some of the processes we put in place to manage labor agencies and payments need to be strengthened and upgraded and we are taking immediate action to correct this, including disciplinary action,” Taiwan-headquartered Wistron Corporation said in a .

Meanwhile, Apple, for whom this factory was producing various parts for iPhones, has said that it has placed Wistron on probation and the company will not be receiving any new business from Apple until complete corrective action is taken.

Apple, who was conducting a parallel enquiry into the December 12 violence incident, stated, “While investigations are ongoing, our preliminary findings indicate violations of our Supplier Code of Conduct by failing to implement proper working hour management processes. This led to payment delays for some workers in October and .”

On the other hand, Wistron has decided to recall their Vice President, Vincent Lee, who overlooked their India operations. “We are removing the Vice President who oversees our business in India. We are also enhancing our processes and restructuring our teams to ensure these issues cannot happen again,” the company said in a statement.

Wistron further said that it would be starting an employee assistance program for workers at the facility soon and will be setting up a 24-hour grievance hotline in Kannada, Telugu, Tamil, Hindi and English, where all workers can voice their concerns anonymously.

On December 12, it was alleged that some of the contract workers at Wistron’s manufacturing plant in Narasapura went on a rampage damaging equipment, office property and vehicles, causing Rs 25-28 crores in losses to the Taiwanese contract manufacturer and forcing it to shut the plant.

Karnataka Chief Minister BS Yediyurappa had expressed concerns over the incident and said that even Prime Minister Narendra Modi was worried about the developments and that strict action would be taken against the culprits.

“Foreign companies are very important to us. These things should not have happened and the Prime Minister is also very worried about this development. We have instructed all authorities that such things cannot be repeated and we will give full support to that company and without any problem let them continue production and other things, Yediyurappa had told media.

The All India Central Council of Trade Unions (AICCTU) has submitted a report to the Chief Minister and Labour Minister of Karnataka over the labour law violations by Wistron Narasapura Industrial Estate, suggesting measures to be taken by the state to ensure industrial peace.

The report also indicts the factory management for terrible working conditions elucidating the plight of the workers for the past few months. On December 12, thousands of workers protested at Wistron factory raising several demands, which ended in properties of the factory being destroyed and police action against the workers. Wistron, a multinational corporation from Taiwan, has its establishment at Narasapura Industrial Estate, Karnataka where iPhones are assembled for Apple Inc.

When AICCTU visited the factory site on December 14, they stated that the entire area was inaccessible to the public and the police refused to allow anyone near the factory. It states that the workers, especially those from the nearby villages in Kolar district are from extremely poor backgrounds and a large number of them belong to the Dalit community. During appointment, they were informed that they would receive wages of rupees twenty-two thousand per month including overtime wages.

But the working conditions have been rather horrific. Workers in the factory that operated in 2 shifts from 6 AM to 6 PM; and 6PM to 6AM), were compelled to do 12- hour shifts every day/night and could not opt for the shift they’d like. Women were made to work the night shift and for every four days of work, the workers were provided two days off. There was no grievance redressal mechanism for workers, who got up at 4 AM everyday for a 6AM shift and never reached home before 8PM.

Despite being promised rupees twenty thousand, the report mentions that they received substantially less wages even after having worked overtime on all days without leave. They have not received their wages for November. The vandalism of the factory was a result of months of pent-up frustration and angst over not having received their dues from the HR and other Wistron officials.

The report has requested the police to investigate and inquire into a particularly disturbing video in the public domain that shows workers being made to lie down on the ground on the stomachs and being beaten by the police. Reportedly 150 workers have been arrested but no the family members have not been provided with any details.

“The response of the State Government has been one of outright condemnation of the destruction of property and little sympathy for the plight of the workers. The events of December 12, 2020 are an act of desperation on the part of the workers, who are exploited and unorganised, with no avenue of grievance redressal”, the report states.  

Violations

Section 5 of the Payment of Wages Act, 1936 mandates that the wages of every worker employed shall be paid before the expiry of the 10th of every month in case of industrial establishments with over 1,000 workers but the Wistron factory workers have not been paid on time. Minimum wages, which is mandatory under the Minimum Wages Act and extra wages or overtime (more than 9 hours a day) under the Factories Act (section 59) are some labour protections that were not offered to the poor workers. This essentially constitutes forced labour which is unconstitutional.

The Supreme Court in People’s Union for Democratic vs Union Of India & Others (AIR 1982 SC 1473), has held that: “Where a person provides labour or services to another for remuneration which is less than the minimum wage, the labour or service provided by him clearly falls within the scope and ambit of the words “forced labour” under Article 23. Such a person would be entitled to come to the court for enforcement of his fundamental right under Article 23 by asking the court to direct payment of the minimum wage to him so that the labour or service provided by him ceases to be ‘forced labour’ and the breach of Article 23 is remedied.”

Section 51 of the Factories Act, 1948 provides that performance of overtime work cannot be made compulsory but the workers were forced into 12-hour work shifts. Rule 23 of the Karnataka Minimum Wages Rules, 1958 and Rules 7 and 9 of the Karnataka Payment of Wages Rules, 1963 mandate that work hours, wage periods, rate of wage and date of payment of wages for two months in advance should be displayed. However, neither were such details put up, nor did the State take steps to inspect the said factory, thus leaving the workers completely in the lurch.

The Industrial Dispute Act (section 43) provides for a Works Committee to promote measures for securing and preserving amity and good relations between the employer and workmen. Further, Section 9C mandates that every industrial establishment employing 20 or more workmen shall have one or more Grievance Redressal Committee, consisting of equal number of members from the employer and the workmen, for the of disputes. But the workers have been deprived of that too.

Above all, the management compulsorily engaged women to work in night shifts for 12 hours without complying with proper transportation facility from residence accompanied by security guards in vehicles with CCTV cameras, hygienic working conditions, medical facilities, sufficient rest rooms, canteens, etc.

Suggestions

AICCTU has informed the Government that an establishment employing more than 10,000 workers that does not have a workers Union is alarming. The presence of a union helps in strict compliance with laws and harmony between the employers and employees. The right to organize and collectivize is protected under Article 19(1)(c) of the Constitution and in order to ensure that it is given complete meaning, it is necessary that the Labour Department take necessary steps to inform workers of these rights which have certainly not been implemented yet.

Section 9 of the Factories Act empowers the inspectors to inspect any factory within his jurisdiction. Similarly, section 14 of the Payment of Wages Act and Section 19 of the Minimum Wages Act, 1948 lays down the same powers, putting a positive obligation and duty on the Labour department to ensure regular monitoring. In the given situation, they have been advised to immediately inquire and take necessary actions.

It is also very apparent that Wistron has seriously violated the statutory codes and laws set out and hence a thorough investigation into their unfair labour practices must be looked at.

The Union has appealed to the Karnataka Government to contextualise the plight of the arrested workers in light of them being engaged in extremely exploitative sweat-shop like working conditions in gross violation of labour laws including the most basic right to earn wages of workers who are already poor. They have asked for the release of the detained workers and ensure that their families are informed as mandated under Article 22 of the Constitution.

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