Wistron Violence: Apple Supplier Admits Some Workers Were not Paid Properly, Removes India VP

A separate statement from Apple said that Wistron would not receive any new business from the company until they complete taking corrective action.

New Delhi: Key Apple supplier Wistron, currently at the centre of a controversy after its workers rioted at its iPhone factory outside Bengaluru, has admitted that some of its workers were not paid “correctly” and in some cases “not on time”.

The Taiwanese firm, which is the first Apple supplier to produce iPhones in India, also said in a statement that it will be “removing” its vice president who oversees the firm’s business in India.

“Since the unfortunate events at our Narasapura facility we have been investigating and have found that some workers were not paid correctly, or on time. We deeply regret this and apologize to all of our workers,” the company’s statement noted.

“We are removing the Vice President who oversees our business in India. We are also enhancing our processes and restructuring our teams to ensure these issues cannot happen again. Our top priority is to ensure all workers are fully compensated immediately and we are working hard to achieve that.”

On probation by Apple

A separate statement from Apple, put out on Saturday afternoon, said that the preliminary findings from its probe indicate that there were violations in the code of conduct it prescribes for all of its suppliers.

More damningly, the iPhone and Mac maker also said that Wistron would not receive any business from the company until complete corrective action is taken.

Apple employees, along with independent auditors, will monitor their [Wistron] progress. Our main objective is to make sure all workers are treated with dignity and respect, and fully compensated promptly, its statement noted.

On December 12, many of the Wistron plant workers – both full-time and contractual employees supplied by third-party staffing firms – held demonstrations over unpaid salaries and poor working conditions.

These demonstrations quickly snowballed and turned violent, with a few workers attacking office infrastructure and damaging goods and furniture. While the company initially claimed damages worth over Rs 400 crore in the initial FIR, this was later revised to Rs 41 crore.

Over 150 people have been arrested in connection with the violence so far by the state police.

The Wistron plant in Bengaluru. Photo: PTI

Bigger picture

The incident quickly grabbed national headlines in part because the Wistron iPhone facility has been a point of pride for the Narendra Modi government, which has been trying to attract firms looking to leave China as part of its ‘Make in India’ programme.

In September, Apple launched a direct online sales store in India. And over the last eight months, according to multiple media reports, Wistron’s workers have surged to about 9,000 from just 2,000 before the start of the pandemic.

According to Wistron, the company has 1,343 permanent employees and 8,490 contractual workers.

A report prepared by the Karnataka Labour Department in Kolar Circle – after the violence – claimed that Wistron didn’t maintain attendance and salary records.

State labour minister Shivaram Hebbar told several media publications that five contractors had not paid some of the workers for the last three months – and that this was one of the main reasons for the violence.

“Some of the complaints were that they were made to work for 8-12 hours with just a 50-minute break,” he said.

A separate report in Mint earlier this week, quoting unnamed government officials, said that six staffing firms that supplied manpower to the plant could be “blacklisted” for failing to pay wages.

Political spin?

The violence quickly acquired a political colour, with a local BJP lawmaker alleging that the Students’ Federation of India (SFI) may have instigated or been behind the riots.

“We don’t care who it is, we will take action because this is about our district’s future. About 6,000 acres have been allotted for industries here. So when companies set up here, such organization like SFI are trying to scare them and dissuade them from investing here. We have all the footage and evidence on CCTV. I have told the SP and district authorities to take strong action against them. Those innocent should be spared but anyone guilty must be punished. There is no compromise on that,”S. Muniswamy, who is the BJP’s MP from Kolar, told the media earlier this week. 

While the Kolar police initially detained Srikanth, the taluk president of SFI, he was later released on Friday evening after questioning.