On December 12, the iPhone manufacturing plant run by a Taiwanese company, Wistron Corp, at Karnataka's Kolar district was attacked by employees aggrieved over alleged non-payment of salaries and overworking for months.
The unit, located at Narasapura Industrial Area of the Kolar saw thousands of workers in the early hours of the day, ransacking the office and laying siege to the building. They pelted stones at the building and set two company vehicles on fire.
The police presence during the incident resorted to lathi-charge to disperse the crowd.
What Workers Had To Say
The workers protested against the management for not paying wages to most employees for months, making them work overtime, and violating the norms of the Factories Act.
The employees said there were discrepancies in the promised salary and the given one. The engineering graduates working at Wistron were promised a monthly paycheck of ₹21,000, but the firm didn't honour the promise, not once but twice.
The company initially paid ₹16,000, from which they deducted ₹4000 and the employees received only ₹12,000. It was worse for non-engineering graduates and the housekeeping staff. In addition, they were forced to work overtime, replacing the regular 8-hours shift to 12-hours shift.
Besides, the company hired over 10,000 workers on a sub-contractual basis through staffing agencies. There were glitches in the attendance system as well.
The employees had said the issue of non-payment and overtime working has been ongoing for over six months. They had raised their concerns with the management but received no concrete response.
Police Detained Hundreds Of Workers
Over 150 people were detained in connection with the violence and an FIR was registered against 7,000 people, including 5,000 contract workers at Narsapura police station for vandalism and rioting.
The police officers took the help of staffing agencies and line supervisors to identify the workers before making arrests.
On December 17, The Kolar Rural police detained Srikanth, the taluk president of Students' Federation of India (SFI), in connection with the vandalism. The police said that Srikanth and several SFI activists allegedly entered Wistron's premises. However, his presence at the factory has not been proven.
Labour Officer Contradicts Employees
Days after the vandalism, Labour Commissioner Akram Pasha said that wages were paid duly to the employees for the earlier months, and there was just a four-day delay for December.
The delay caused was due to a bug in the new software system that the company had recently shifted to in October. Earlier, the company followed the biometric system and wages were paid based on
However, the officer did not respond to the allegations of overtime working and discrepancies in the promised salary.
Responding to the report of increasing the labour strength, Pasha said that it might not be true as the company followed the due process and trained all its labours before employing them.
Clarifications By Wistron
A week after the violence, on December 19, Wistron Corp agreed to lapses in payment of wages. The firm admitted that 'some workers were not paid correctly, or on time." The Apple supplier issued an apology to all its workers and also removed its Vice President who oversaw operations in India.
The company has shut down its Narasapura unit following the rampage and restructured their recruitment and payroll teams there. Besides, the firm has established an assistance program and a 24-hour grievance hotline in different regional languages.
Apple Stops Business
Apple, in its separate statement, said that the preliminary findings from its probe indicated violations in the supplier code of conduct that the tech giant prescribed for all of its suppliers. It said the company failed to implement proper working hour management processes.
The tech giant said that Wistron would not receive any new business before it completes the corrective actions.
In its preliminary report, the Karnataka government's Department of Factories, Boilers, Industrial Safety & Health had found that the company had violated labour laws.
It also revealed that the company could not cope up with the rapid scaling up of workforce and breached many laws, Reuters reported. The number of workers rose from permitted 5,000 to over 10,000 within months.
The company underpaid the wages to contract workers and housekeeping staff and made female staff work overtime without any legal authorisation.
The company suffered a loss of around ₹437 crores during the violence, including the destruction of office materials, company vehicles, smartphones, and various products the unit manufactured, according to a complaint filed with the Kolar Police station.
However, the loss suffered was approximately 12 per cent of the said number.
The Taiwanese manufacturer had informed the Taiwan Stock Exchange that the preliminary estimates of losses incurred are around ₹52 crores, Times of India reported. The company further clarified that no damage was caused to any major manufacturing equipment.
In its stock exchange filing, the company also said that the negotiations with the insurance companies are going on. In addition, the firm is also working with the state government and the police to further investigate the matter.
It is unclear whether the company overestimated the damages earlier or there was a genuine mistake in reporting. Speaking to the media, Wistron India MD, Sudipto Gupta said he had nothing more to say other than the official stock exchange statement.
Responding to the company's clarification, Karnataka Labour Minister Shivram Hebbar said that irrespective of the loss, the violence cannot be overlooked, as it does not augur well for the state when it is trying to attract fresh investments.
What Does Wistron's Indian Unit Make For Apple?
Wistron is one of Apple's biggest global suppliers.
The Narasapura unit of Wistron opened in July this year. The unit started the assembly of Apple's recent product, iPhone SE (2020). It produces four models, the iPhone 11.
The other unit in Bengaluru is in the Peenya locality of the city's outskirts, from where Wistron has been producing iPhone SE models since 2017.
According to The Indian Express, the unit is spread over 43 acres and was built with an investment of ₹3,000 crore. The Narasapura unit employs about 2,000 regular employees and some contractual employees, while the old Peenya unit employs approximately 3,500 people. The iPhones produced in both these unit are exported to other countries.