After massive protests and facility shutdown, Foxconn accepts workers’ demands

Following an incident of mass food poisoning of 159 workers at the Sriperumbudur plant of Foxconn Group, massive protests were staged by women workers over the poor food quality and living conditions at worker’s accommodation.

December 31, 2021 by Peoples Dispatch
Workers blocked traffic from the midnight of December 17 into December 18 on the Chennai-Bengaluru Highway following the mass poisoning of 159 workers. Photo: Newsclick

Foxconn Technology Group has agreed to the demands made by the women workers protesting at its Tamil Nadu facility. The plant of the Taiwanese conglomerate and main assembler of Apple Inc.’s iPhones, was set to resume production on December 30 after being shut down for over a week, the Tamil Nadu state government said in a statement on December 25.

The statement by the government was released after massive protests and a road blockade organized by the mostly women contractual workers at the Sriperumbudur facility of Foxconn on December 17 and 18.

The protest erupted after more than 159 workers fell sick due to mass food poisoning and an outbreak of acute diarrhoeal disease (ADD) on December 15, the causes of which were not disclosed to workers.

Workers were given no clarity from authorities on their colleagues’ health conditions, despite having asked their principal employers, contractors, and health and labor department officials.

“We complained of vomiting and dysentery on December 15 after consuming food from the canteen in the International Maritime Academy (IMA) hostel. None of the wardens or the contractors paid attention, after which many fell seriously ill,” a worker told Newsclick.

“The wardens informed us that the workers have left the hospital without their knowledge and hence they are not responsible for the workers’ health. Instead of giving details, they accused us of unhygienic practices for the issue. When we did not get any information about their health, we decided to protest,” the worker explained.

With uncertainty continuing for more than two days, rumors started spreading about the death of two workers, and the workers decided to organize a road blockade to make their demands for information heard. The traffic on the busy Chennai-Bengaluru Highway came to a halt as soon as the 3,000 workers sat in protest.

The protests were withdrawn later after the district administration released details of the hospitalization of workers, but the poor working conditions, exploitation and massive contractualization have since come under the radar. The plant remained shut down from December 18 to at least December 30.

As reported by NewsClick, 67 workers and activists were detained by Tamil Nadu police during the protest and road blockade and were held captive for more than 24 hours. The workers’ and trade union leaders alleged that the political clout of the contractors was the reason for police action.

Government officials, including the Minister for Labor Welfare and the District Collector of Thiruvallur, arrived to the point of mobilization by noon on December 18 to hold talks.

Foxconn in Tamil Nadu has history of worker abuse

The electronic manufacturing giant, trading as Hon Hai Precision Industry Company limited and named Bharat FIH, has been operating from Puthuchathiram village in Tiruvallur district in the outskirts of Chennai since 2016. The company manufactures mobile phones for the Indian and international markets, including iPhones.

The company reportedly employs around 6,000 to 7,000 workers through seven contractors at Rs 12,000/month, or USD 161.

Workers complained that prior to the episode in mid December, they had repeatedly raised objections to the food that is served at the factory’s facilities. When things took a turn for the worse with the mass poisoning episode, workers alleged that authorities acted too late and too little by only placing the blame on the canteen contract owners.

According to the latest reports, on December 29 Apple Inc.  announced that it put its iPhone assembler Foxconn Technology Group’s plant in Sriperumbudur township under probation.

The decision comes after both the companies found upon inspection that some remote dormitories and dining rooms at the facility did not meet the standards, according to Reuters.

Foxconn is one of the companies approved by the government of India to receive the performance-linked incentive (PLI) for manufacturing products. “This again is a bonus for the companies which loot the workers. The worsening labor policy changes are a bane to the working class in India,” said S. Kannan, deputy general secretary of Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU).

The announcement that Foxconn has accepted workers’ demands is deemed a victory for the protesting women workers as the Taiwanese firm has reportedly promised to improve the working and living conditions of the temporary workers by expanding their living areas, upgrading bathing facilities, and providing drinking water, according to the statement.

With reports from Newsclick.