Labour groups continue to protest Wintek. Buyers are not yet responding.Photo: A protester holds an Apple laptop with the Chinese characters for “responsibility” on the screen, outside Apple’s Taipei office, May 21, 2009

On 10 June 2009, Taiwan-based LCD panel maker Wintek held its annual general meeting, while labour groups protest about unlawful dismissals and other labour issues at Wintek’ factories in Taiwan and China. Wintek Corporation is one of Taiwan’s largest flat screen and touch panels manufacturers and a major supplier to well known brand name companies including Apple, Huawei, HTC, Lenovo, Motorola, Nokia and Samsung.

Labour groups continue to protest Wintek. Buyers are not yet responding.Photo: A protester holds an Apple laptop with the Chinese characters for “responsibility” on the screen, outside Apple’s Taipei office, May 21, 2009

Labour groups continue to protest Wintek. Buyers are not yet responding.

On 10 June 2009, Taiwan-based LCD panel maker Wintek held its annual general meeting, while labour groups protest about unlawful dismissals and other labour issues at Wintek’ factories in Taiwan and China (Dongguan).

Wintek Corporation is one of Taiwan’s largest flat screen and touch panels manufacturers and a major supplier to well known brand name companies including Apple, Huawei, HTC, Lenovo, Motorola, Nokia and Samsung.

The action on the day of Wintek’s AGM follows months of protest by Chinese and Taiwanese labour groups. On 21 May 2009, a protest meeting was organised at Apple Computer Taiwan, specifically targeting Apple as one of Wintek’s major buyers. 

Labour rights violations

On 17 December 2008, more than 600 employees of Wintek Taiwan, including pregnant women and veteran workers, were laid off without due prior notice. Wintek has claimed this was due to a decrease in orders, but at the same time the company started recruiting new staff. Some of the dismissed workers were re-employed on temporary contracts. Many are still unemployed, however.

The Taiwanese National Federation of Independent Trade Unions (Nafitu) has been assisting the dismissed workers in their demands for re-instatement and compensation. So far, we hear, Wintek has been turning a deaf ear to the workers’ demands. Instead, Wintek has filed a lawsuit for defamation against Chu Weili, the Secretary General of Nafitu.  Labour groups take this as an attempt to silence unions and worker protesters. It is feared that other labour groups will also be sued.

From 15-17 April 2009, about 7,000 workers at Masstop, a Wintek subsidiary in Dongguan, China, went on strike protesting bad labour conditions and labour rights violations at their factory. Specifically, the workers complained about forced, excessive overtime (even on public holidays); insufficient payment of overtime; wage reductions without negotiations; food poisoning; and the lack of effective workers’ representation. Students and Scholars Against Corporate Misbehaviour (SACOM) has been assisting the Masstop workers. A report by SACOM provides background and details to this strike. On 17 April 2009, 19 striking workers were dismissed. 3 workers would like to fight for reinstatement and are currently seeking legal advice.

According to the labour rights organisations involved, Wintek’s way of acting is a breach of local labour laws as well as of its buyers’ codes of conduct. Nafitu, SACOM and other involved labour rights organisations in Taiwan and China have tried to make contact with Wintek as well as with some of the buyers of Wintek’s products.

Wintek, for its part, says it has done nothing wrong and that all layoffs and pay policies were completely aboveboard and in line with local regulations. 

Petition

Labour groups have formulated a series of demands to Wintek and are appealing to Wintek’s buyers to use their influence on Wintek to ensure labour rights are protected. The core message is that Wintek should respect local/international labour laws and should engage in a constructive way with labour unions and workers’ representative organisations. The brands sourcing from Wintek are to make sure their codes of conduct are respected.

Wintek’s market position
Additional information from business sources mention that since December 2008, all Wintek employees have been taking five days of unpaid leave per month, with executives taking a pay cut of 30%. Moreover, all contract workers and 10% of its full-time staff have been laid off, purportedly in line with the company's attempt to lower costs and reduce losses amid the global economic downturn. Beginning of June 2009, Wintek’s 15% revenue drop was noted. Wintek reportedly indicated that revenues declined in May 2009 mainly because of a shortage in small- to medium-size panel driver ICs. Orders and shipments for the touch panel business remain stable, Wintek noted. 

End of May 2009, however, it was reported that Wintek will cancel its unpaid leave policy by June. Also, the company will be offering former employees priority consideration when new openings are available. Moreover, notebook-related IC designers report that Wintek will be supplying the 10-inch capacitive touch panels for Apple’s Media Pad touch screen tablet. In short, Wintek’s market position seems to be strong enough.

Buyers
Apple stands out among the different brand name companies sourcing from Wintek. Apple has been specifically targeted by the labour groups in their call for ensuring labour rights. At Wintek’s two facilities in Taiwan - Tanzih and Huanjhong plant respectively—workers manufacture LCD panels for Apple’s iPhones, computer monitors and computer mice. At Wintek’s subsidiary Dongguan Masstop in China touch panels for Apple's new products are now under testing.

Other brands sourcing from Wintek include Huawei, HTC, Lenovo, Motorola, Nokia and Samsung. Five out of these six brands are member of EICC and/or GeSI, the industry’s sustainability’s initiatives. EICC members are bound to implement the EICC code, besides respecting the individual company codes. HTC has apparently applied for GeSI membership.

Detailed information about sourcing, like recent orders, volumes etc., is lacking, however. As brands are not transparent about their sourcing, labour rights organisations are mainly relying on workers providing information.

The labour groups involved have addressed Wintek as well as the sourcing brands, but no tangible answers were received so far. Only Samsung responded, asking SACOM if Samsung is buying from Wintek.


In support of the Chinese and Taiwanese labour groups, GoodElectronics has now also written to Wintek and its buyers, as well as to EIUCC and GeSI. GoodElectronics has asked Wintek for information about the conflict. The questions put to the buyers are if they are informed about the ongoing labour disputes at Wintek’s factories and about their sourcing relations with Wintek. Also, buyers as well as EICC and GeSi were requested to indicate what steps could be taken to ensure that workers’ rights are respected.

To be continued.