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Make in India drive? How workers work in an environment of extreme insecurity in a Chinese smartphone MNC

By Cijo Joy and Anushka Singh*
The ‘Make in India’ drive and its claim of generating employment by getting multi-national companies to manufacture in India is characterized by appalling and inhuman work ‘opportunities’ of which the Vivo India Pvt Ltd is a glaring example. Vivo Company is a Chinese smartphone manufacturer that entered the Indian markets in December 2015 under the ‘Make in India’ initiative and was also the sponsor of the Indian Premier League 2017.
Its manufacturing unit located in Greater Noida, Uttar Pradesh came in the news when it was reported last month that over 1000 workers have been terminated from job from the company since the end of the IPL season and on 25th July 2017 angry workers had retaliated and ransacked the factory. PUDR’s investigation, however, revealed that the incident of 25th July was a culmination of the Company’s policies and its treatment of its own workers.
Dwindling numbers: The Company currently has over 6000 workers and all employed on a contractual basis. They only hire ITI graduates hence the work falls in the category of skilled labour. The workers claimed that at the end of the IPL season in May 2017 the company had around 24000 contractual workers who have been gradually ousted over a period of two months without any prior notice. The work primarily at the Unit is that of assembly of smart phones with components imported from China, where around 70 workers work together in an assembly line. For past two months, the Company has consistently been firing all workers belonging to different assembly lines.
Work conditions: The workers work in different shifts; the regular shift is for 9 hours while two other shifts are of 8 hours each. The workers are required to work for all 30 days without any leave for which they are paid Rs. 9300 per month. After deducting PF and ESI, each worker gets only about 7100 for 30 days of work. In addition to this, the Company offers buses as conveyance for pick up and drop and offers food in the canteen free of cost which according to the workers, is of very low quality. The company has a policy of deducting Rs. 2000 from the salary for the absence of a single day of work and if perfect attendance is met, a reward of extra Rs. 2000 is added to the salary. The award has not really been given but absence for even a day leads to more than 20 per cent deduction in salary. During the entire day’s work, the workers get half an hour of lunch break and 10 minutes of tea break. Besides these breaks, if a worker leaves the assembly line even for going to the washroom, he is penalized. Workers also complain of regular harassment and verbal abuse by the supervisors. They work with a target of assembling 160 phones per hour. Not meeting the target has resulted in termination of the services of the entire line of workers. The PF amount can be claimed by a worker only after 6 months of service but the Company follows a practice of not retaining a worker for more than 5 months. All the workers who have been fired in last few months have not received their PF amounts. In the recent months workers have not been receiving even the stipulated Rs. 7100. In all, the workers live and work in an environment of extreme insecurity. They may enter the factory for their shift only to be told that they are part of “LEFT” category and they could leave. The word Left symbolized termination from job. No explanation is provided.
The incident of 25th July: The workers were being fired routinely for some time, when the incident was repeated and an entire assembly line was fired, workers retaliated. The contractors and other members of the management responded by abusing and beating up the workers. The abuse angered the workers even more and around 400 workers resorted to physical force, damaged some physical property and also beat some members of the management. Police was called in by the management and police arrested around 30 to 35 people, according to the workers.
Police action: According to the SHO, ECOTECH Zone, Police station, Gautam Budh Nagar, where the complaint was registered, police intervened to pacify the workers and arrested 7 of them who engaged in violence. Police claims that on their way out, the workers ransacked a truck loaded with smartphones and around 150 handsets were reported missing. The police has registered an FIR against 7 workers and around 250 unnamed under sections 147 (rioting), 148 (rioting, armed with a deadly weapon), 149 (unlawful assembly), 379 (theft) and 427(committing 'mischief' and causing damage). The workers denied that they had looted the truck. It also remains unexplained how workers were charged for rioting with deadly weapons when they are required to pass through a three tier security check before entering or leaving Company premises making it impossible for them to carry substance along. The police action is decidedly one-sided as it has taken no action against the management and its staff for harassing, abusing and roughing up the workers.
Management’s silence: The management refused to speak to PUDR but the police narrated their version. According to the Company, around 300 to 400 workers leave the job every month as they find better job opportunities and that the Company has not fired anyone. On 25th July, the workers stole 150 phones worth Rs. 20 lakhs and damaged property worth 10 lakhs. They have only refused to take those workers back who have been identified to have engaged in violence.
Continuing harassment: Despite the incident of 25th July and its reporting in the media regarding workers being fired, on 4th August, the Company resorted to the same means. The attendance reward of Rs. 2000 was scrapped and some workers received less than Rs. 4000 as their July salary. The workers questioned the management and shouted slogans against them, after which many workers were fired again. The worker feared in the coming days, more such terminations were impending.
The land on which the Company stands belongs to Jaganpur village but the Company has hardly employed even 10 youth from the village. They have a policy of getting workers from distant areas in a bid to prevent unionization. This forces the workers to take up rooms in nearby villages where a single room with double occupancy costs at least RS. 2200 per month. Often, they have to pay extra for a third person. It is evident that most workers find it impossible to get their families to Noida. In fact, some workers commute long distances in order to be able to stay with their families and to undertake agricultural activity back home. For those who have no lands back home, the meagre wages and extreme uncertainty makes life very precarious.
It is true that Make in India has attracted a host of smart phone manufacturers in order to avail of the benefits offered. The initiative slashed the tax on locally manufactured handsets to 2 per cent, compared to 12.5 per cent duty on imported completely-built handsets. Given this and a huge potential market in India, manufacturing handsets in India became logical. India attracted investment from 37 mobile manufacturers in the past year, more than half a dozen of which were Chinese handset makers. This includes one of the biggest telecom companies of China, Huawei. Brands such as Xiaomi, Gionee, LeEco, Oppo, Vivo, Meizu, OnePlus, and Coolpad have either set up plants or made announcements to set up plants.
However, the work conditions at Vivo are indicative of the absolutely shocking nature of employment which is being created as a result. The dreadful work conditions, abuses in the hands of the management, peanuts in the name of salary, zero increment despite months of work symbolize the nature of job that Vivo Company offers. It reflects a system of wage slavery where people are hired and fired at-will. It is frighteningly reminiscent of Foxxcon (Shenzen, China) which became infamous for spate of suicides by its workers in 2010.
PUDR demands:
  • FIR against the workers should be withdrawn immediately
  • Action should be taken against the Company for violating labour norms and proper work conditions should be ensured
  • Sacked workers should be reinstated
  • Wage rates should be revised according to the statutory laws
---
*Secretaries, People's Union for Democratic Rights (PUDR)

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