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At Wistron iPhone plant, families search for ‘missing’ men, accuse contractors of cheating

Relatives of people arrested for 'vandalising' Wistron factory in Kolar say some hadn't even joined work yet. Many call for arrest of contractors first.

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Narasapura/Kolar: A blue police van is stationed outside the gates of the Wistron factory in the Narasapura Industrial Area in Karnataka’s Kolar, three days after employees went on a rampage to protest against the delay in payment of salaries and alleged “inhuman” working hours.

The facility has a heavy security presence — both police and private — and employees are being checked thoroughly before they enter for their shift.

“Show me your phone,” says a private security guard to an employee. He takes a good look at the make, asks the employee to empty his pockets, and frisks him, before allowing him in. The guards have been instructed to ensure that employees who look “suspicious” have to be immediately reported to the police and the security in-charge.

A police vehicle stands outside the Wistron factory in Narasapura, Kolar | Photo: Rohini Swamy | ThePrint
A police vehicle stands outside the Wistron factory in Narasapura, Kolar | Photo: Rohini Swamy | ThePrint

When ThePrint approaches the gates, three armed security guards walk up, and one of them says: “We have been given strict instructions to keep people out, and specifically asked not to speak to women.”

When this reporter asks why, the guard answers: “We don’t want any unnecessary complaints from you if we speak loudly or forcefully ask you to leave.”

Needless to say, tensions and suspicion are running high at the factory run by Taiwanese electronics manufacturer Wistron, which makes Apple iPhones and other companies’ devices at this plant.

Relatives of the employees arrested for the alleged vandalism are also being denied entry to speak to the management; many of them express disbelief that their loved ones could’ve been part of the Saturday morning attack.


Also read: Will ensure justice for Wistron, says top industry body after Karnataka iPhone plant violence


The attack

Wistron Private Limited’s administrator, Prashanth T.D., filed an FIR at the Vemagal police station, Kolar, stating that the company had found new phones, laptops and monitors missing from the plant. Wistron further stated that it suffered losses of over Rs 437.7 crore during the violence on 12 December.

The attacking mob allegedly consisted of a large group of enraged employees furious over the delay in salaries. They wrecked furniture, equipment and other property at the unit, and also torched a few vehicles.

Seemant Kumar Singh, inspector general of police for the central range, told ThePrint that 158 people have been arrested for the violence.

“We have arrested those found in possession of property that belongs to Wistron. As of now, we have recovered 50 gadgets. A total of 450 cameras in the facility have recorded the entire incident and we are scouring through them to identify the attackers. All the arrested have been sent to judicial custody,” the IPS officer said.

‘Much more money promised’

The arrested persons’ relatives have been sitting outside the gates of the factory as well as the office of Kolar’s Superintendent of Police Karthik Reddy since Tuesday morning, seeking their kin’s release.

Sumithra is one of the relatives standing outside the factory gate. Her younger brother Chethan has been detained by the police for the violence, but she refuses to believe he could be part of a violent mob.

“On Friday, we went to the temple in Tirupati (in neighbouring Andhra Pradesh). On Saturday, at around 6 am, he received a call from a friend, and then some videos of people damaging the Wistron factory. He showed it to me and then we got ready to have breakfast. The police claim they found his phone’s GPS location near the facility. How can that be when he was at home till 9 am?” Sumithra said.

At the SP’s office, Anand S. is carrying documents to prove his son’s innocence. On the condition of not printing his son’s name, he says he has the appointment letter and the name of the contractor who helped his son gain employment.

“He has been working there for close to four months. He finished his class 12 and came to know of this opening in the assembly section. He would get Rs 8,000 a month. But now, we have found that the contractors have been taking Rs 20,000 from the company but paying him only a fraction of the salary,” Anand told ThePrint.

Another contracted employee who has been picked up for the violence, Avinash, wasn’t even at the facility when the attack took place, claimed his cousin Prasanna G., who was also waiting at the SP’s office.

Prasanna claimed Avinash had to report to work for the morning shift Saturday, but when he heard of the attack on the facility, he decided not to go. He alleged that the police have been picking up people based on the GPS location of their phones. “But what if they are just standing outside to see what happened?” he asks.

“Avinash has been working for 1.5 months and was promised an initial salary of Rs 18,000. But he would receive only Rs 8,800 and sometimes be forced to work double shifts. On the day of the attack, he had taken his bike and gone towards the factory. We haven’t seen him in three days,” Prasanna adds.

The parents of Mahesh, Manjunath, Muneendra and Suraj claim their children received their appointment letters on 2 December, asking them to join on 15th. But two days before the date of joining, they too were picked at around 6 am Sunday by the police, they say.

“They were yet to report to work. Why should they be arrested?” one of these parents asks.

However, all those assembled here make it clear that they are not blaming Wistron for the salary issues — they accuse the contractors of cheating.

“We demand that the contractors first be arrested for flouting labour laws,” says K.S. Narayan Swamy, father of Suraj, who has been arrested on charges of rioting and arson.


Also read: Violence at Wistron iPhone plant in Karnataka is a challenge to Apple’s globalisation plan


Apple launches probe

Apple Inc. has also launched a full-fledged investigation into the violence at the Wistron plant, where its iPhone SE and iPhone 7 models are manufactured. Apple is Wistron’s biggest customer, but the Kolar facility also makes products for other companies.

Armed with videos retrieved from employees of the factory, Apple officials are probing whether Wistron flouted supplier guidelines.

“Apple is dedicated to ensuring everyone in our supply chain is treated with dignity and respect. We have teams on the ground and immediately launched a detailed investigation at Wistron’s Narasapura facility in India. We are also dispatching additional Apple team members and auditors to the facility,” the tech giant said in a statement Monday.

“Our teams are in close touch with the local authorities and we’re offering our full support to their investigation.”


Also read: Trouble at Wistron India plant won’t hurt iPhone output but could hit Apple’s ties with firm


 

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4 COMMENTS

  1. Apple should be aware by now that India is not China , Workers will speak up here against unhealthy labour practices.

  2. This is the typical mischief of manpower supply agencies. This regularly happens in Industries, especially garment industries, where most workers are women and suffer such cheating silently. Most managements do not entertain complaints from the contract employees and abdicate the responsibility towards the employees to the contractors. In this case, it has taken serious turn. Our labour laws, even the reformist new Labour Code does not address the issue of exploitation by the manpower supply contractors. The episode will seriously dent the credibility of India as a safe place for investment. Unscrupulousness is a bigger cause of concern than the violence.

  3. Media should investigate and publish the names of the contractors, where they are from and their political affiliations.

  4. Do the contract employees belong mostly to the district of Kolar? Are the working class people of Kolar in general an emotional and aggressive lot?
    Not getting paid by Contractors does not mean breaking the factory (which has given them jobs) and indulging in looting. Why did these contract workers not show their anger towards the contractors instead? Perhaps the contractors are Politicians or connected to Politicians themselves?

    And what was the Labour Department doing to enforce proper Contract Labour practices? The Karnataka Labour Minister should take accountability and resign. The employees of Karnataka Labour Department in charge of this disrict/factory should be investigated and dismissed from their jobs if they did not do what they were expected to do.

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