about 9 months ago
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Apple gadgets are aspirational but the recent incident at the factory in Bengaluru left one wondering about the exact cost being paid for fulfilling these desires.

Eleven days ago, it was pretty shameful when several thousands of workers at this Apple manufacturing unit, Wistron Corporation, ransacked the office, set cars on fire, broke windows and doors. This shows that the workers were pushed to the corner, they had reached the limit of their patience as all their complaints fell on deaf ears.

We all have heard time and again of labour trouble and such violence in the auto belt – Gurgaon-Manesar-Bawal. But to have such kind of thing happening in Karnataka truly came as a shock.

This comes at a time when India is trying to convince the world to make India their manufacturing hub, persuade global companies that we are better than China. But what we have instead shown is that there has been an all-round failure. The incident at Wistron shows that we lack any form of maturity when it comes to labor reform. We have HR departments but most of them are there to only disburse salaries and keep a check on the attendance and vouchers. Wistron has also shown us the complete inadequacy of the labor inspection department too and when it comes to redressal mechanism – it couldn’t have been worse.

To meet its rapid expansion targets, the company started hiring but on contractual basis. The hiring was so skewed – as against 1343 full-time employees it hired over 8400 contract workers through six manpower agencies.

Though the company expanded its labour force by five times, it did nothing to expand its HR department – they remained at a mere 3 looking after over 9500 workers – almost 3200 workers to one HR professional – that is how skewed this ratio was. Naturally, this led to major chaos with workers not getting their salaries for months as the paper work remained incomplete. The entire violence which happened on 12th Dec at the factory was provoked on account of non-payment of salaries despite complaining several times.

So, the question which comes to mind – why did the labourers never approach the Karnataka labour department? Is it because they felt that it would be of no use? How did such rampant violation go unnoticed for 8-months? Isn’t this a reflection of the regulatory mechanism which is completely ineffective when it comes to protecting workers rights? And Karnataka has the reputation of being the most mature when it comes to manufacturing, maybe the IT hub reputation rubbed off – so, if this could happen in one of the advanced manufacturing hubs in India, what can one say about the mechanisms in other states, which are making an appeal to the global companies to set up facilities there?

Obviously, Apple is concerned as its name got dragged into this muck.  Apple did its own investigation and found serious lapses and is now in the process of setting up an “employee assistance facility” which will first and foremost, help sort out all confusion over wage and overtime payments.

The bigger issue here is contract labour – about 90% of India’s manufacturing is through contractual workers. And there is really nothing which protects the 90% of this work force. While law protects companies making it easier for them to hire and fire, there is no mechanism which brings the company and the contract workforce together. At the same time, the company also never oversees the treatment meted out to the contract workers.

Constant friction between the management and violence at factories, points a finger at contract workers – they need to be protected or else we will defeat the entire process of “Make in India.”

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