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Electronics Production | October 18, 2010

India's mobile phone manufacturing industry 3/3

Out of the 115 workers in mobile phone factories interviewed, 38 (or 33%) were from various departments of Nokia. The rest were from Nokia suppliers in the Sriperumbudur SEZ near Chennai, where this study was predominately based.
2.2 Labour Standards from Workers’ Perspective
This section covers the survey of workers about their working conditions and the extent to which these correspond to the International Labour Organisation’s (ILO) core labour standards.

Nokia

Interviews with Nokia workers point to the various deficiencies in labour standards in the Nokia factory in Sriperumbudur. The company has suspended 12 members of the workers’ council following the strike in January 2010 and only taken them back to work half a year later. In January 2010, a senior Nokia official is quoted in the media as having said, “We will teach them a lesson this time”, referring to the workers.

The turnover among workers is a worrying aspect of work in Nokia. Workers fear that they will be retrenched sooner or later as they have seen many of their colleagues being terminated from employment for one reason or the other. As there is a steady stream of job seekers pouring into metropolitan Chennai, companies are confident that they recruit sufficient number of workers at any given period without having to retain them on longer tenures. There are very few workers belonging to local communities living close to the SEZ. This discrimination is resented by the communities who have even lost their burial grounds when their land was acquired for the SEZ.

The standards of safety and health in the factory leave much to be desired. For example, very few people have undergone fire drills and first aid training, according to workers. In absence of more concrete information CIVIDEP doubts whether all the employees of Nokia are registered with the Employees State Insurance Organisation which is mandatory and which is the basic health service for workers in India.

Workers say that treatment is free of cost in the factory clinic only for the first visit and then on they are charged varying fees. Despite many recurrent ailments experienced by workers, ranging from lower back pain to eye irritation, joint pain and skin diseases, the management does not seem to have either conducted thorough health check-ups for workers using advanced diagnostic technology or to maintain systematic long-term records of their state of health.
Some of the testimonies of workers in Nokia which articulate the labour standards issues are reproduced here.

Laird

Laird manufactures spare parts like the navigation key for Nokia. There are about 3500 workers in the factory, including a large number of women workers. Interviewed workers said that the work pressure is high; workers are required to complete high production targets. There is no discussion with the workers on the setting of work targets and there is no forum for workers to raise concerns or grievances.

Work is organized in three shifts. Workers may use medical facilities at the clinic outsourced to Apollo Hospitals. However, workers say that the medical facility is not fully subsidized and they are often charged for routine medical tests and some treatments.

Workers are not able to exercise their rights to leave entitlements. Workers are warned of disciplinary action even if they apply for leave due to them. The average monthly wage is about Rs. 3600 for permanent workers. Overtime work is very rare. Factory buses transport workers from pick up points to the factory.

Canteen facilities are available. The key labour standard issue is the treatment of workers as casual labour and not permanent employees. Workers continuously work under threat of retrenchment at the will of the company. Lack of a collectively bargained agreement between the workers and the management makes the workers very vulnerable.

Flextronics

The Chennai Industrial Park, located in Sunguvarchatram, manufactures mobile chargers, mechanical enclosures and PCB assembly for both domestic and overseas customers. There are in total about 1600 employees and the gender ratio is 60-40 men to women. The regular employees account for approximately 40% of the site headcount, i.e. more than half of the employees are contract labourers.

Workers say that they are shifted from their positions on the shop floor very frequently and this leads to pressure on them to learn new skills rapidly. These changes affect productivity and leads to conflict with supervisors and managers. Monthly wages are pegged at the level of statutory minimum wages, but taken with the overtime payments the take-home pay is about Rs. 4500 per month. The company however claims that operators are deployed in job positions after proper training and that job rotation is effected based on skill and customer requirements.

Flextronics has a curiously named ‘Eve’s Council’ working under the human resources department. This is supposedly for receiving complaints from and to redress grievances of women workers. However, workers interviewed have not reported specifically on the work of this council. Workers reported layoffs at least twice in the past two years. The company’s response to this allegation is that workers have never been laid-off in Flextronics Industrial Park. However, a few indirect employees have either been redeployed or released on voluntary separation plan with due compensation.

The company provides bus facilities for the transport of workers. There is also a subsidized canteen. Except for the weekly off day it is hard for workers to claim their earned leave. In contrast the company reports that employees are entitled to their earned leave as per company policy and employees are never denied of this privilege.

Production targets are said to be inordinately high.

Flextronics has a medical centre, managed by trained personnel round the clock, to cater to employee health requirements. The medical centre handles all medical emergencies and provides first aid services. For secondary treatment of injuries, most workers use the services of Jaya Clinic notified by the company for health facilities. Some workers are also accessing the ESI dispensary.

The company informed that recently, all women employees including contract workers have been provided with a nutritional health kit following a health examination and also receive gynaecological support. Besides, the company has also rolled out a home medical scheme to facilitate health care needs of employee’s family members. Apart from that, the company provides medical insurance to cover hospitalisation expenses for employees and their families.

Foxconn

Foxconn manufactures batteries for Nokia. One other plant of Foxconn outside the Nokia SEZ is now dysfunctional. There are over 2,500 workers in Foxconn including men and women in more or less equal numbers. As in other mobile phone companies, most workers are young and have migrated into the area from elsewhere in Tamil Nadu. The company has arranged for hostels to house the male workers.

There are about 150 male workers staying in the company hostel. Workers said that there were proposals for a women’s hostel as well. Workers, when sick, need to report at the clinic run by a private health facility called ‘Jaya Hospital.’

The average monthly wage of a worker is about Rs. 4,500. However, this is only when the overtime wages are added up to the regular wages. It appears that the company is paying less than minimum wages by taking in Trainees and getting the work of a full time worker out of them.

There is overtime work on almost all days. Workers have no choice but to work overtime and they are threatened with dismissal if they refuse. Work pressure and production targets are high. Linemen and supervisors harass workers when they slow down or attempt to take short breaks.

Labour contractors and their agents bring workers from towns like Dharmapuri, Salem, and Vellore in Tamil Nadu. The company takes care not to employ workers from villages near the SEZ. The few workers who are recruited from nearby areas are discriminated against by assigning them particularly hard labour. Workers say that this is to make local workers leave employment themselves and to reduce their number in the workforce.

This is because local workers would be more vociferous in protesting against any exploitation whereas workers from distant localities are in a more vulnerable position to find support. Workers cannot claim their leave entitlement as their right. There are occasions when there is overtime work even on Sundays. Many of the so-called apprentices have not been confirmed in their employment despite completing the training period. Workers say that the company prefers to recruit fresh apprentices rather than confirm existing workers in their jobs.

The overall policy of Foxconn shows a preference for temporary workers, to deny right to association and to avoid collective bargaining agreements. Management practices of the company are in line with the strategy of the group of Nokia’s suppliers, creating a vulnerable workforce without the capacity to bargain for their rights.

Perlos

Perlos manufactures the component called D-Cover for Nokia phones. There are over 2000 workers including men and women. The average monthly wage is about Rs.3,600, just at the level of the statutory minimum wages. Workers are enrolled under the State social security and health/insurance schemes Employees State Insurance and Provident Fund. Workers use the private Apollo hospitals engaged by the company to provide limited health services.

Workers are transported by company manned buses. Food is provided in the canteens but a sum is deducted from the wages. Workers did not report high work pressure and it appears that work environment is free of conflicts and harassment. Overtime work is very rare. However, there are no workers’ councils or any other forum for grievances or concerns of the workers. Although from the reports of workers, it seems that the work atmosphere is better, Perlos’ employment and wage policies are not markedly different from those at other suppliers of Nokia.

Salcomp

Salcomp manufactures exclusively cell phone chargers for Nokia and other OEMs. There are about 2,500 workers in the factory including men and women. Work on most days is in three shifts. The monthly wages are around Rs. 4,200. The factory has its own medical facility that workers can use. Workers have the statutory Employees Provident Fund and Employees State Insurance facilities.

Most workers we talked to did not have any idea of how to access the ESI dispensary. However, the company claims this information is provided during an induction programme. Chemicals that are potentially harmful for human beings are reportedly being used during the production process. However, the company claims that the use of chemicals is limited and meets all legal standards.

Unfortunately Cividep did not have the chance to verify this statement with workers

At the point of interview in 2009 workers also raised several complaints regarding the high-handed behaviour of line leaders in the factory. Workers said their behaviour is often insulting and demeaning. According to the general manager, internal employee satisfaction survey however indicated the opposite. Currently most line leaders are female employees and harsh behavior has reportedly decreased.

Wintek

Wintek produces display systems for the phones. There are in total about 2000 workers who work in three shifts every day. There are very few permanent workers in this factory and most of them are apprentices. Many of the workers have been working for more than two years but they have not been absorbed into the regular workforce. Workers here also have access to the Apollo clinic for health facilities.

Here also like in many other suppliers of Nokia, workers cannot claim their leave entitlement as a matter of right. Workers complain of high production targets and stressful work atmosphere. The company has not so far paid the statutory bonus. Wages are at the level of statutory minimum wages.
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Source: Centre for Research on Multinational Corporations (SOMO)

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This article is part of a series.

India's mobile phone manufacturing industry 1/3

India's mobile phone manufacturing industry 2/3

India's mobile phone manufacturing industry 3/3

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