Unsettling scenes unfolded at an iPhone manufacturing factory in southern India when workers, upset about their unpaid wages and working conditions, reportedly vandalized the facility. The Taiwanese tech contract manufacturer, Wistron Corp., which runs the factory, found itself at the center of the controversy, raising questions about workers’ rights, fair wages, and the ethical implications of global supply chains. The unrest at the iPhone factory is part of a broader wave of worker protests in India. A few weeks ago, the country witnessed one of the largest general strikes in history. In addition, there have been ongoing nationwide protests against deregulation and reforms that benefits large corporations.
The incident at the iPhone manufacturing plant occurred on a Saturday when a majority of the 2,000 workers smashed windows and set fire to signs at the factory, leading to significant damage to the factory premises. The workers expressed grievances over unpaid wages and forced overtime.
Employees at the Wistron factory raised concerns over the reduction in their wages over time. Engineering graduates, who were initially promised a monthly salary of Rs 21,000 ($286), reported reductions to Rs 16,000 and subsequently to Rs 12,000 in recent months. Non-engineering graduates reported their monthly salary having been reduced to Rs 8,000 ($108).
The workers also alleged that they had not been paid in four months and were forced to work overtime. They expressed frustration over the fact that they were manufacturing iPhones, a product they themselves could not afford due to low wages.
The Modi government has been implementing a series of neoliberal reforms aimed at attracting foreign investment and aiding business expansion. However, these reforms have faced opposition from labour unions and workers who believe that they could lead to wage cuts and job losses. The recent unrest at the iPhone factory highlights the growing discontent among workers and raises important questions about workers’ rights and fair wages in a globalized world.
The global ITUC (International Trade Union Confederation) said in a statement that it stands in solidarity with Indian farmers and trade unions in their joint fight against the Modi government’s agricultural liberalisation and labour law reforms, as they mark two years since the killing of four farmers protesting the proposals.
On 3 October 2021, the four farmers and a journalist were killed in Lakhimpur Kheri when a car was driven into a demonstration held in opposition to plans to de-regulate the agricultural sector, without consultation, in a way that would negatively impact farmers’ incomes. India’s anti-farmer laws have been matched by an increase in anti-union and anti-worker policies. In response to this and in the run-up to the next general election, due to be held mid-2024, the farmers plan escalating action in partnership with Indian trade unions.
The ITUC, Indian trade unions and farmers demand that the three agricultural laws are definitively scrapped, the labour codes that favour big and foreign corporations are withdrawn, the policy of privatisation is stopped and social security is provided for all categories of informal workers. The ITUC Global Rights Index shows that there is a clear link between workers’ rights being upheld and the strength of any democracy. In India, the erosion of one amounts to the degradation of the other.