CHENNAI: When the Finnish telecommunications giant Nokia handed over their mobile production to Microsoft in 2014, it didn’t upset the market since it was already flooded with smartphones of all makes. But the workers paid a heavy price.
According to a report in The Wire, on November 1, 2014, Nokia stopped production in Chennai, one of its largest mobile assembling plants in the world. Soon, Nokia’s supplier firms – Foxconn, Lite-On Mobile, Build Your Dream – also closed their plants, taking away more than 8,000 jobs.
One such plant was Foxconn’s in Sunguvarchatram in the suburbs of Chennai in Kanchipuram district of Tamil Nadu, where 1,300 workers lost their livelihood overnight and have been facing unemployment ever since.
In February 2015, the Indian arm of Foxconn Technology, the Taiwanese multinational electronics manufacturing giant, closed down their factory in Sunguvarchatram. The reason they cited was the lack of orders from Nokia due to which operations in the factory had been suspended since December 2014.
The labour union of at Foxconn, affiliated to the Centre for Indian Trade Unions (CITU), and the Tamil Nadu government had tried to reach a settlement with the management through talks. In the final agreement, the management agreed that February 10 would be the last working day for workers, and a compensation of Rs 5 to 5.5 lakh was decided for each employee. Additionally, the management also agreed with the union that they would give preference to the1,300 permanent employees for jobs if the company reopens.
Now, for the twist in the tale. So far, Foxconn has not opened their facility in Chennai. But another manufacturing company, named Rising Star, is currently functioning in the same plant. This company, which functions the same way as Foxconn did, and has employed about 6,000 contract workers, all women, without even considering the 1,300 Foxconn workers who had lost their jobs.
As is a common practice adopted by corporates these days, by recruiting contractual workers, Rising Star is making a huge profit. Each of the 1,300 workers of Foxconn who lost their jobs were paid around Rs 18/000 a month. Rising Star, on the other side, is paying the contractual workers only Rs 7,000 -10,000 a month.
When the workers questioned the labour office about this “breach” of agreement, Rising Star denied any connection with Foxconn, say some union members. However, Rising Star’s Facebook page claims that they are part of Foxconn group. And in a February 2018 report on Foxconn’s Indian investment, The Economic Times reported Rising Star as the Indian manufacturing arm of Foxconn. The labour journal, TN Labour, also reported that both companies have same directors and give same address in their website and pages.
The workers, who have held a series of protests, also approached the state labour office, seeking intervention in the matter. When the workers filed an RTI to get more information about the relations between Foxconn and Rising Star, the labour office gave only details about Rising Star company. They responded that they do not have any information regarding Foxconn, said the union members.
Feeling short-changed by Foxconn, a majority of the 1,300 jobless workers are struggling for livelihood.
“Only a few of these workers were able to find other jobs,” Kannan Soundarrajan, CITU district secretary of Kanchipuram, told Newsclick. “Last September, the labour minister gave us an oral assurance that the company will give about 100 of these 1,300 employees their jobz back. Even this hasn't happened so far. We are conducting protests for so long now. We will continue our struggle till these workers get justice,” he added.
Considered the world’s largest contract electronic manufacturer, Foxconn’s inhuman treatment of workers and labour law violations have been widely reported in the international media. Many reports have also described the Foxconn factories as “labour camps” due to their poor working conditions.
In 2012, the company itself admitted of employing 14-year-old students as interns which lead to a huge controversy.