India: Hundreds of iPhone Factory Workers Riot over Abusive Work Conditions

People exit from the gate of Wistron, a Taiwanese-run iPhone factory at Narsapura, about 60 km from Bangalore on December 13, 2020. - Authorities vowed to crack down on workers who went on a violent rampage at a Taiwanese-run iPhone factory in southern India over allegations of unpaid wages and …
MANJUNATH KIRAN/AFP via Getty Images

Hundreds of angry workers held a demonstration Saturday at Wistron Infocomm Manufacturing near Bangalore, India, to protest unpaid wages and exploitative working conditions.

The demonstration turned violent as workers smashed windows, damaged factory equipment, destroyed vehicles, and clashed with police. Taiwan-based Wistron uses the facility to manufacture iPhones for Apple, Inc.

According to local media reports cited by the South China Morning Post (SCMP), the workers claim they have not been paid in months, even though they were forced to work extra shifts to meet production goals. Some employees complained that when they did get paid, their wages were much lower than the salaries to which they agreed when Wistron hired them. Employees working on the factory floor reported clearing as little as eight dollars per month.

The demonstration began when angry employees finished working a late shift at the factory and lingered outside, talking among themselves about unpaid wages and broken promises from their employers.

Security cameras at the factory recorded the employees going on a destructive rampage, with some smashing windows and damaging equipment inside the factory while others attacked parked cars outside, setting some of them on fire. 

Wistron reported extensive damage caused by “people of unknown identities from outside who intruded into and damaged its facility with unclear intentions.” A company executive told WION News on Monday that some 2,000 “unidentified and unknown people” joined 5,000 company employees for the riot. Local police have made about a hundred arrests as of Monday morning.

A statement from Wistron said the company is fully cooperating with the police in investigating the incident and also promised to follow all local labor laws and “related regulations.” 

“The state government has allowed the company to flout the basic rights,” retorted a trade union leader quoted by the SCMP. He accused Wistron of “brutal exploitation” and described its Indian factory, which has about 15,000 employees, as a sweatshop.

Singapore-based CNA News reported Sunday that Wistron “commissioned five manpower agencies to recruit workers” and pay their wages some time ago, and the company “made full payments to the five agencies on time,” implying that any legitimate complaints from the workers might be better directed at these manpower agencies, or possibly at unscrupulous lower-level factory managers.

CNA also suggested some of the hard feelings might have spiraled out of control due to India’s caste system, because “lower level workers tend to place more trust in employers and managers of higher castes.” In other words, the workers might have been defrauded or abused by their employment agencies or factory managers, but they believe Wistron corporate management is responsible.

The Indian government is reportedly investigating claims of outside agitators causing the riot and has promised protection to Wistron and other foreign-owned operations, evidently eager to reassure overseas owners that their investments in India will be safe.

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