Many students on Wistron rolls

Many students on Wistron rolls

A significant number employed as contract staff were students, which is why a students’ body came into the picture

A huge number of workers at the Wistron iPhone plant, near Kolar, are students, according to a students’ organisation championing their cause.

Vasudeva Reddy, state secretary of Students’ Federation of India, says the students, all below 25, are victims of grossly unfair labour practices. SFI is affiliated to the Communist Party of India.

The student-workers are mostly from Bengaluru Rural, Chikkaballapura and Kolar districts.

“During the pandemic, many students lost their part-time jobs, and took up work at the factory. They were promised about Rs 21,000 as salary but were only paid between Rs 5,000 and Rs 8,000,” he says. At any workplace such as the one in Narasapura, Kolar district, the convention is to have three shifts of eight hours each, but Wistron had only two longer shifts. During the Covid-19 crisis, the state government had issued a notification allowing factories to extend working hours up to 10 hours. It withdrew the notification when it faced a backlash.

Wistron went ahead and made people work for 12 hours, says Vasudeva Reddy, a student of labour law at the University Law College, Bengaluru. 

Most workplaces provide employees with attendance punch cards. “But here, agencies maintained manual attendance records, like in schools and colleges, writing down names by hand,” he says.

Impractical breaks

Apart from working for longer hours, they were also given impractical breaks. “Most female employees were exhausted. In case of an emergency, labourers had to push a bell and ask for the supervisor’s permission to take a break,” he says. Workers couldn’t step away from their posts even for a toilet break without permission from the supervisor, he says.

Labourers had complained to the Kolar deputy commissioner and the labour department. “No one intervened, which is what led the student-labourers to contact SFI,” he says.

Srikanth, Kolar taluk president of the SFI, was trying to intervene. Police arrested him and charged him with instigating the vandalism, but let him go for lack of evidence, says Vasudeva Reddy.

Wistron, a Taiwanese company, has now admitted to payment gaps, and apologised to the workers.

Tough work environment 

A BCom graduate from Kolar was appointed at Wistron after being promised Rs 16,500 as salary. He joined the factory in October and worked till December 11. “We only had a 30-minute lunch break and a 15-minute tea break. Apart from this, if we had to step away from our work station, even if for a health problem, we had to seek permission from our line leader,” he says. This applied both to critical and non-critical work stations, according to the contract worker. About 6,000 people have been asked to resume work from January 2021. “I am one of them. We have been assured the shifts will now be for eight hours,” he says.

Wistron snapshot

Total workers — 9,833

Contract workers — 8,490 

Permanent workers — 1,343

What next?

SFI, All India Lawyers Union and Centre of Indian Trade Unions, are offering free legal services to workers against whom the police have filed cases. 

The student body will file a defamation case against S Muniswamy, MP, and the Kannada news channel Survarna “for spreading wrongful information that SFI was involved in the violence”. 

Labour agencies

Innov Source, Creative Engineers, Needs Manpower Support, Randstand, Quess Corp, Adecco Group and United (housekeeping).

(*According to a Karnataka government document)

Metrolife repeatedly called Wistron for this story, but the company did not respond.