23 December, 2021Thousands of young women workers at Foxconn's iPhone assembly plant in Tamil Nadu, India, blocked the Chennai - Bangalore highway, demanding improved working and living conditions and decent employment. The protests were triggered by food poisoning at a Foxconn dormitory, leaving hundreds of workers in hospital.
The plant employs around 16,000 workers, 80 per cent of which are between 18-23 years old. The majority are migrant contract workers employed through third-party contractors or agencies, and lack contracts, identity cards or any proof that they are employed by Foxconn. The workers receive low wages, lack access to social protection and have barriers for joining a union or bargain collectively.
The workers are made to stay in hostels, that they say are crowded and lack even the basic amenities. 20-40 workers are lodged in a room which can accommodate maximum ten people and the rooms lack proper ventilation. Quality and hygienic food is not provided. Workers can only leave in case of an emergency, and salaries are deducted for leave taken.
The contract workers are not allowed to use mobile phones inside factory premises and their movements are restricted. Unions claim that these workers are kept as bonded labourers.
In the third week of December, hundreds of workers were food poisoned in a company provided dormitory, the IMA hostel, housing more than 2,000 women workers. When colleagues asked about their wellbeing, management, the hostel and the contractor continuously refused to respond, triggering protests among the workers.
On 17 December, workers initiated a spontaneous sit-in protest near the factory and blocked the Chennai - Bengaluru highway. The protests spread to other places along the Chennai - Bengaluru highway.
Workers demanded that authorities provide full details about the affected workers and their health status, take action against the contractor and the hostel administration, ensure better infrastructure and improved living and working conditions. They also urged Foxconn to take responsibility for the workers’ safety and well-being.
‘Workers are expelled from work even for a small mistake and face abuses. We are all educated and many of us are graduates but have temporary work status and low wages.’’
Even assurances by the Minister of Labour welfare, higher officials from state and district administration, did not convince the workers.
After more than 16 hours of protests, workers protesting near the factory in Sunguvarchatram were dispersed by the police. Workers protesting in Oragadam, a nearby industrial area, were arrested. Around 20 union activists were remanded for judicial custody that evening. 67 women workers were released the following day.
“The young women at the factory were pushed to protest as a result of the absolutely inhuman working conditions in the Foxconn plant, as well as the living conditions in the dormitories. It is imperative that trade unions have access to these young workers so that they can unionize and improve their working and living conditions,”
says Apoorva Kaiwar, IndustriALL Global Union regional secretary.