ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Workers’ Protest amidst Industrial Apathy

The Wistron workers’ protest turning violent is indicative of deeper fissures in industrial relations.

On 12 December, workers at the Wistron factory in Kolar district of Karnataka staged a protest demanding delayed and unpaid wages. Within a few hours, images of arson and violence emerged, eventually culminating in a police lathi charge. In response, the Karnataka government has made rhetorical overtures that it would maintain peace in the affected area. With around 150 workers arrested, fear looms large in the area, with many arrested workers’ families unable to contact them. The narrative of violence and damage of property appears to underscore the approach of the company and the state government. However, there is no denying that what comes across as a spontaneous act is, in fact, a product of workers’ dissatisfaction and frustration, owing to accumulated demands such as delayed payment of wages, deductions in wages without explanation, compulsory 12-hour shifts, non-payment of overtime wages, and improper records of workers’ attendance.

Taiwan-based Wistron set up this facility in February 2020, assembling Apple’s signature product, the iPhone. Factory management claims that it hires four-fifths of its 10,000 employees through contracting agencies. Workers claim that this system leaves no avenue for grievance redressal; instead, the company and contractors appear to be passing the buck to one another. Contract labour, symptomatic of industrial hiring for the last many decades, is often a convenient way of avoiding responsibility towards workers’ entitlements. The lack of a clear employer–employee relationship often leaves workers quite helpless and deeply frustrated. This has been borne out by a fact-finding report conducted into the incident by the All India Central Council of Trade Unions. The report finds that the factory management has de facto control over labour recruitment and work allocation. Meanwhile, another report by the state labour department appears to find fault primarily with the contractors. In the interim, Apple has placed Wistron on probation pending an inquiry into whether supplier guidelines were violated. It is not surprising that Apple finds itself in the middle of a storm again, considering its history with another Taiwan-based company, Foxconn, notorious for poor working conditions in its factories in China, which saw a spurt of workers’ suicides in 2010 and 2012. It is evident that an elaborate system of contracting and sub-contracting, both at international and domestic levels, ensures that liability in the case of statutory compliance becomes a confusing matter, weakening and diluting the position of workers, and allowing businesses to continue to violate labour norms. Ironically, in October this year, Wistron’s managing director was appointed by the India Cellular and Electronics Association to head a committee to investigate reforms to labour norms meant to benefit employers and employees.

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Updated On : 28th Dec, 2020

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