At 11.30am on December 23, four workers stood in front of the main gate at Wistron Infocomm (Kolar), the Taiwan- based contract manufacturer of Apple’s iPhones, trying to reach out to their hirers to demand the pending wages. The security personnel denied them entry as the manufacturing facility remained shut after the violence that erupted on December 12 following wage disagreements.
Two of the employees, hired by one of the seven staffing firms contracted by Wistron, found their supervisors’ phone numbers switched off. For the other two, the HR coordinator (not a direct employee of Wistron) came out to assure them that wages would be paid soon. But the workers were not convinced and they feared their jobs were at stake after the violence cast shadow on the company. All the workers aged between 21-25 hailed from nearby villages.
Several employees, staying in the vicinity of 20 km from the facility, complained of wage disputes (lower pay and delays in salary payouts), fault in attendance system, strict working conditions with limited scope for work-breaks.
Wistron Infocomm engaged nearly 10,000 workers through seven staffing firms —Innovsource Services Pvt Ltd., Creative Engineers, Needs Manpower Support Services, Randstad India, Quess Corp Limited (previously Ikya Human Capital Solutions), Adecco Group and United (housekeeping). The workers hired by these firms were deputed at the manufacturing facility located about 45 km from Bangalore in the Narasapura industrial area.
The Federal checked the payslips and offer letters of workers employed by two contracting firms — Quess Corp Ltd and Innovsource Services — and found that the salary promised to the employees and the salary paid to them were not in sync. Besides, the employees also complained of delayed salary payouts.
The companies hired fresh graduates, industrial training institute (ITI) certificate diploma students and engineering graduates, among others.
In one instance, an ITI diploma holder working as an “operator” since August said his salary never matched the salary offered to him when he joined. His offer letter given by Quess indicated the cost to company (CTC) to be ₹21,863 per month for a 12-hour shift. His take-home salary was mentioned as ₹16,904.71, including ₹3,150 as shift allowance, variable dearness allowance at ₹1,786 and overtime allowance of ₹2,340 (for 20 hour).
The worker said every alternative week their shifts changed and they had to compulsorily work for 12 hours a day even at night with just two 15 minutes tea breaks and a half-hour dinner/lunch break. They worked from 6 am to 6 pm and from 6 pm to 6 am in two shifts every alternate week.
While the worker worked on all the 30 days in November, his take home was only ₹14,777. (short by ₹2,117 from the amount mentioned in the payslip). The worker says despite requesting his supervisor and the HR to explain the difference, he got no answer except for an oral assurance that it would be corrected in the subsequent month. For the same employee, in the month of September, the salary was calculated on the basis of 31 working days despite the month having only 30 days. A day’s wage was cut accordingly.
The worker, who received salary for four complete months says he never once received the salary as promised.
“I am 22 and this is my first job. My friends and I joined looking at the brand and the salary they offered. But we never thought our first job would end up in such a mess,” the worker, who hails from Kolar, said.
His teammate, who faced similar problems, said Wistron calculated salary from the 23rd of a month to the 22nd of the next month and released the pay to contractors before the month ended. However, these companies, in turn, paid the employees only around the 10th of the subsequent month.
In another case, a BCom graduate hired by Innovsource in the midweek of October and who worked until December 11, was paid only for a week. The employee, who had financial commitments and had to pay for house rent, was eagerly waiting for his November month salary. He said the delay in payout was quite common — his friends who joined between June and August had warned him about it.
In both the cases, the workers said there was no complaint redressal mechanism and in no case could they reach out to the Wistron HR person. While both the employees claimed they were not involved in the vandalism, they feared that the wrongdoings of the contracting firm that employed them will now put their jobs at stake.
The Federal also spoke to a few other employees who all had similar complaints of wage disagreements and strict working conditions without breaks. Some of the employees said they were promised a salary between ₹19,000-21,000 as operators, but they were only paid between ₹8,000 and ₹14,000 a month.
Emails sent to Wistron, Quess Corp Ltd and Innovsource Services Private Limited over wage difference and employment conditions did not elicit any response.
As the company offered free transportation facilities (up to 40 km) and subsidised canteen food, many travelled from Bangalore every day. A few workers spent nearly 16 hours (work+travel time) and all they could do was to go home and return to work the next morning.
Even as existing workers feared job losses, fresh graduates coming from as far as Vandavasi, Vellore, (about 250 km from Bangalore) and other towns in neighbouring Tamil Nadu, reached the facility hoping to get a job at Wistron. At the same time, some of the workers were moving in and out of the local police station as they were summoned by the authorities in connection with the violence.
Certain news organisations reported that Student Federation of India (SFI), the student organisation affiliated to the Communist Party of India (Marxist), was behind the incident to tarnish the image of the BJP government in the state. However, the police investigating the case denied the claim.
“We are still investigating the case and we have not found evidence to say SFI or CPI(M) was involved in the vandalism,” Keshavamurthy, sub-inspector at Vemagal Police Station limits under whose jurisdiction the incident happened and investigations are on, said. “So far we have arrested 160 people in connection with the case.”
The Karnataka labour department officials too found the hiring firms violated certain provisions of the labour laws, acknowledged that the company did not maintain proper attendance and staff records. Even Apple’s preliminary investigation found the hiring firms violating the rules and hence they placed Wistron under probation and assured to not give more business to the company until corrective actions are put in place.
While the incident cast a shadow on the investment climate in the state, Karnataka Chief Minister B S Yediyurappa sparked it off as a one-off instance and assured investors that the state would let such incidents repeat again.
The All-India Central Council of Trade Unions accused the state government of soft-pedalling on establishments. “Officials spoken to, including the police, say that this incident has brought disrepute and affected the “investment climate” to the State and the country. Does not the State Government see that what is being generated is exploitative employment opportunities without even wages being guaranteed?”the union asked in a statement.