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Vandalism over salary non-payment, denial by Labour Dept, and a Communist hand: All you need to know about Wistron plant saga

According to Labour Commissioner Akram Pasha, the data showed that the firm had been prompt in paying the dues to its employees, except for this month, where it had been delayed in transferring the remuneration by just 4 days.

Thousands of employees of the Apple’s contract manufacturer Wistron India were recently seen entering into the facility at Narasapura in Kolar, Karnataka, vandalising and ransacking the office properties. Wistron is a Taiwan-based manufacturer that makes iPhones for Apple Inc.

The escalation took place after the employees alleged that the Taiwan-based organisation had reduced their salaries and was making irregular payments. The angry group of workers went on a rampage on Saturday last week, damaging factory property including vehicles of officials parked at the premises. The workers also shattered windowpanes, furniture, and CCTV cameras at the campus. The Wistron Corporation has said it suffered losses worth several crores in the incident.

The incident was condemned by senior leaders in the Karnataka government, with the Deputy Chief Minister C Ashwathnarayan assuring that strict action will be taken against the perpetrators and ensuring that the government will do the needful to resolve the matter expeditiously and dispel the concerns of all stakeholders involved in the dispute.

An FIR has been filed against 7,000 unknown people, including 5,000 contract workers in connection with violence and vandalism at the facility of Wistron Pvt Ltd, manufacturer of iPhone. So far, 150 people have been arrested by the police in connection with the vandalism incident at the iPhone manufacturing unit in Kolar on Saturday. They have been sent to judicial custody and have been lodged at different jails in Kolar. A total of four FIRs have been registered by Kolar Police.

What is the issue that led to violence at the Wistron plant?

The employees who ran riot at the Wistron Plant near Bengaluru on Saturday have alleged that the issue of reduced salary and delayed payment has been lingering for over four months now. They have alleged that the company has been deferring the payments of the salaries for the last four months. They also accused the organisation of reducing their salaries and not paying them for the overtime.

Communist-affiliated trade union justifies vandalism

“This issue has continued for over four months now. Initially, there were three shifts which were converted to two shifts with 12 hours duty and four hours overtime. The company is not paying salaries for the overtime and it has also reduced the promised salaries to the employees,” said Krishna Siddi, All India Trade Union Congress member.

It is notable here that the All India Trade Union Congress is affiliated to the Communist Party of India. Justifying the violence and vandalism that took place in the plant, MD Harigovind, the general secretary of the AITUC said, “The industrial violence in Wistron is a direct result of the brutal exploitation of workers and sweatshop-like conditions created by a company, manufacturing the most expensive phones. The state government has allowed the company to flout the basic rights of the workers like payment of wages and working hours.”

Last month, the Toyota Kirloskar Motors facility at Bidadi had declared a set down in its factory after the continued strike by union members. The Bidadi facility has two production plants with a total installed capacity of 3.10 lakh units per annum. The TKM management cited ‘breach of discipline and unacceptable behaviour’ by some employee union members and declared a shutdown.

iPhones looted, losses over 400 crores

On Saturday, violence erupted when some of the contract workers alleged non-payment of regular and overtime dues. They started pelting stones, and some vehicles parked inside the factory were vandalised. Boxes of iPhones, which had been manufactured at the facility and were kept for export, were looted by the workers, as per some reports.

A complaint filed by the company executive TD Prashanth stated that office equipment, mobile phones, production machinery and related gadgets worth several crores were lost. Damages to other factory infrastructure, cars and golf carts equipment and machinery were also reported. Boxes of iPhones ready to be shipped were also stolen.

As per the latest reports, the company has stated that the damages were found to be less than their initial estimate. As per ET Now journalist Chandra Srikanth, Wistron India has updated its estimated loss to be about Rs 26 to 52 crores. And not over 400 crores as was initially estimated. Srikanth informed through a tweet that the company has also stated that no major damage to manufacturing equipment and warehouses were done either.

Labour department denies allegations of delayed salaries

The vandalism incident at the Wistron manufacturing unit has taken a new turn as the Labour department claimed that the organisation has been regularly paying salaries to its employees and there was only a 4-day delay this month.

According to Labour Commissioner Akram Pasha, the data showed that the firm had been prompt in paying the dues to its employees, except for this month, where it had been delayed in transferring the remuneration by just 4 days. “Only the police can investigate why this happened. We saw the data and there was only four days’ delay in salary distribution. Many claimed it was for several months but it wasn’t there in the report,” Pasha said.

The labour department has asked for more documents to investigate the matter and the company has sought one week’s time to revert.

Regarding reports that the firm was mulling over increasing its employee strength from current 5,000 to over 10,000, the commissioner said that the reports might not be true as the company has followed the due process and trained all its employees before taking them into the factory.

Reportedly, the four-day delay in the payment was caused due to a software bug. Earlier, biometric attendance was taken and wages were paid based on their attendance. However, after October 2020, the company switched to software which appeared to have developed a bug in registering the attendance, as per reports.

Even Karnataka’s Minister of Labour Department, Shivaram Hebbar stated that the labour authorities were not informed of the problems related to delayed wages at the Wistron facility of Apple Inc where violence broke out on the previous Saturday.

Wistron Plant, near Bengaluru, is involved in the production of flagship Apple iPhones

The Wistron manufacturing plant, like other contract manufacturers employed by Apple, is involved in the manufacturing of its flagship line of smartphones. The factory, that is located in Narasapura, close to Bengaluru, is a new plant which recently started cranking out the new iPhone SE(2020). Spreading over a sprawling campus of 43 acres, the plant was built with an initial investment of Rs 3,000 crores. The unit had opened in July this year.

The original iPhone SE was the first iPhone to be manufactured in India and now there are four models, including the last year’s flagship iPhone 11, being produced here. Besides Wistron manufacturing unit in Narasapura, the other Wistron plant is located in the Peenya locality of the capital Bengaluru’s outskirts, from where iPhone SE models have been manufactured since 2017.

There are about 2,000 regular workers and 5,000 contractual employees employed by the Narasapura unit. The old Peenya unit employs about 3,500 people. The iPhones and other gadgets produced at the Narasapura and Peenya facilities are exported to other countries across the world.

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