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Contractual workers claim wage disparities triggered Wistron plant unrest

At the office of the Superintendent of Police in Kolar, where a few of the workers have been detained, parents claimed they have been waiting to see those arrested for three days but haven’t been allowed to yet.

Written by Darshan Devaiah BP | Kolar | Updated: December 17, 2020 8:26:32 pm
karnataka iphone plant violence, Narsapura plant, iphone plant Narsapura plant violence, bangalore Narsapura plant protest, bengaluru Narsapura plant protest, bangalore news, karnataka newsViolence broke out during a change of shifts at the plant over the non-payment of promised wages, local officials said (File)

Payment disparity and denial of overtime could have been the triggers for the unrest at the Wistron Corp manufacturing plant in Kolar district, contractual employees indianexpress.com spoke to said. As many as 160 workers were rounded up by the police after some of them went on a rampage at the Narasapura plant on December 12 alleging they were not paid as promised.

At the office of the Superintendent of Police in Kolar, where a few of the workers have been detained, parents claimed they have been waiting to see those arrested for three days but haven’t been allowed to yet. “On Tuesday, two police personnel came to our house in KGF and arrested my son without giving any details. When I asked them to state the reason for his arrest, they told me to visit the SP’s office and find out,” a mother said. “When I came here, none of the officers spoke a word about my 22-year-old son. I don’t know where he is or how he is. They should, at least, respond to the queries of an anxious parent,” she added.

Another parent said his son worked at the plant for three months and was paid Rs 9,000 once and Rs 13,000 twice more, less than what he had been promised. “If they want to question him, let them do so. But why have they kept him in custody for the last four days?” he said. Adding that no one has volunteered help as yet, he said, “We don’t know how to get him out. We need legal advice and support as we don’t have money to bear the expenses.”

Most of those working at the Kolar plant are from rural backgrounds, while a few are students who gave up their studies to support their families financially. A few others have completed technicals courses from ITI and other institutes.

Speaking on the condition of anonymity, a worker said the main reason why a section of the workforce erupted in anger was because the contractor, who hired them, did not pay wages as promised for months and did not give allowances for overtime. “After our interviews, they said our shift would be of eight hours and the in-hand salary would be Rs 15,000 (per month) after deductions under Provident Fund and other heads. However, we were paid less than Rs 10,000 and the wages even differed from person to person,” he said.

“The company allotted night shift and day shift allowances of only Rs 127 and Rs 50, in addition to food. Though initially, we worked eight hours, over the last three months we were told to put in more than 13 hours, with a lunch or dinner break of only one hour in between. Apart from this, several workers were terminated last month,” he added.

Wistron Corp officials were not available to speak on the allegations.

The police have formed a special investigation team to probe the incident. Over the last four days, police vans have been deployed inside the 43-acre Wistron campus. Police personnel outside the plant said there were senior officers inside investigating the case.

A full-time employee at the plant said the staffers are working as usual and production was on. “There are only 1,000 of us (full-time employees). We were asked to keep working and are doing as told. However, the production of few other items has stopped,” he said. The plant manufactures for Apple and some other tech brands.

Earlier, the Wistron Infocomm Manufacturing India Pvt Ltd filed a complaint saying it had suffered losses worth Rs 437.70 crore in the violence.

According to the complaint, filed by Wistron executive Prashanth TD, office equipment, mobile phones, production machinery and related gadgets worth Rs 412.5 crore were lost. Infrastructure worth Rs 10 crore, cars valued at Rs 60 lakh, as well as smartphones and other gadgets worth Rs 1.5 crore were damaged, stolen or lost.

He claimed 5,000 contract labourers and another 2,000 unidentified persons vandalised the facility. Police said a clear picture on the extent of losses will emerge only after an assessment by an insurance firm.

Superintendent of Police Karthik Reddy confirmed that 160 people had been arrested so far. The arrests were made on the evidence of CCTV footage and after examining the list of workers who were on the premises when the violence broke, the police added.

Members of the joint committee of trade unions in Kolar have voiced concern over the turn of events, saying they will help the arrested workers get justice. Shyamana Reddy, a member of the committee, said, “The company has violated many labour laws and the contractual employees were not treated well. We have learned that the company did not pay wages as promised and neither were the workers given overtime allowances.”

“According to the information that we have gathered, there are 1,343 permanent employees and 8,490 contractual workers. The contract labourers are a mix of male and female staff between 18 and 26 years of age. We have received complaints that some female workers were also put on night shift without proper security,” he added.

“Apart from locals, the company had hired migrant workers from Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Bihar. The labour department, which should stand by them at this hour, hasn’t responded as yet. We urge the government to take back all cases against the employees and conduct a fair inquiry in the matter,” said Vijay Bhaskar D, another member of the joint committee.

Headquartered in Taiwan and providing technical support solutions, Wistron Corp opened the Kolar plant last year with an initial investment of Rs 680 crore. It operates as a service and manufacturing centre for a range of products, including iPhones.

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