Indian union criticises state govt for failing to address worker woes after Wistron violence

BENGALURU/NEW DELHI (Reuters) - A leading Indian trade union criticised Karnataka state on Thursday for failing to take firm action against iPhone maker Wistron, and protect the company’s contract workers, after a protest over salary payments turned violent.

FILE PHOTO: Men wearing protective face masks walk past broken windows of a facility run by Wistron Corp, a Taiwanese contract manufacturer for Apple, in Narsapura near the southern city of Bengaluru, India, December 14, 2020. REUTERS/Stringer/File Photo

The protest on Saturday over months of alleged underpayment of wages at Wistron’s factory in the southern Indian state spiralled out of control after police were summoned.

The Taiwanese contract manufacturer, one of Apple’s top global suppliers, said in a police complaint that more than 5,000 of its contract workers had destroyed property and equipment, causing an estimated $60 million in damages.

It later said in a statement to the Taiwan stock exchange that the damages, which forced it to shut the factory, were worth up to $7 million.

Hundreds of workers have been arrested or detained by police, and the Karnataka government has condemned the violence, vowing to take the “strictest action” against the wrongdoers.

Clifton D’Rozario, national secretary of the All India Central Council of Trade Unions (AICCTU), said workers had not been paid properly for four months and that officials did not seem to be questioning this. They only seemed to care about foreign investment, he said.

“The state government is going extremely soft on the company and turning a blind eye to all the violations at the facility,” D’Rozario told a press briefing.

“They are generating employment that is not paying people - What purpose does such employment serve?” he said.

Wistron did not reply to Reuters emails’ seeking comment. The Karnataka government also did not respond to a request for comment.

The state government has said it welcomes foreign investment, calling Wistron a “flag bearer” for India’s electronics manufacturing ambitions. It has vowed to help the company re-start operations and said it will look to address worker grievances.

Apple, which has said it is probing whether Wistron flouted its supplier guidelines, did not respond to a request for comment.

The violence at the Wistron plant has cast a spotlight on labour conditions in India, which is pushing hard to become a global electronics manufacturing hub and create millions of new jobs. It has also become a headache for Wistron and its client Apple which have major expansion plans for local manufacturing.

Nearly half a dozen contract workers at the Wistron plant, roughly 50 km (31.07 miles) outside of the tech hub of Bengaluru, told Reuters that several of them had received less than a third of their promised monthly wages. The workers also complained about mandatory 12-hour shifts.

“They promised to give overtime to workers but this didn’t happen for at least three months,” one worker said.

All the contract workers spoke to Reuters on condition of anonymity.

Some said a glitch in the attendance software that did not register their presence in the factory led to salary cuts, but that the company had failed to resolve their grievances despite repeated requests.

Reporting by Sankalp Phartiyal and Chandini M; Additional reporting by Harish Bhaskar in Bengaluru; Editing by Euan Rocha, Kirsten Donovan and Susan Fenton