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Labor dispute with Apple display supplier intensifies

Robert Palmer

After gathering in front of Apple's offices in Taiwan earlier this week, protesters are now demanding a substantive response from Apple by the end of the month regarding alleged workplace labor and safety violations at Wintek, one of Apple's display component suppliers.

Labor groups associated with the protesters claim that Wintek unlawfully fired 619 workers, cut salaries without negotiation, and forced employees to work overtime without pay to fulfill rush orders. The company has since re-hired 20 of those workers and says it is operating within the law. Wintek has also threatened legal action if "company and stakeholder interests" are jeopardized. Wintek further claims that labor groups are violating their agreements and encouraging workers to demand benefits illegally.

The protesters appear to be using the popularity of Apple's brand name to get attention to their cause. "We want to go through Apple to put pressure on Wintek," said Chu Wei-li, secretary-general of the Taipei-based National Federation of Independent Trade Unions.

Apple Asia released a tepid response after the protests. Spokeswoman Jill Tan said, "Apple conducts regular audits of suppliers to make sure they comply with Apple's code of conduct. We require corrective actions when we find violations."

An audit is exactly what aggrieved Wintek employees say they are demanding. MacNN says that rights groups associated with the protests are also asking the Electronics Industry Citizen Coalition to investigate Apple's delay in responding to the matter.

Wintek was recently rumored to be the winner of the display contract for Apple's "media pad" tablet device. Some analysts predict the tablet will go on sale next year.

Apple has previously found itself in the middle of other labor disputes. In 2006, Foxconn workers protested low pay and poor working conditions while assembling iPods. Apple conducted its own investigation and found that the company violated overtime rules and unreasonably punished workers. Since then, cute pictures of Foxconn employees have thawed the image of the supplier.

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