- Images on the internet show hundreds of workers protesting
- Surveillance cameras and windows smashed by men with sticks
- Workers complain about unpaid wages and insufficient food
- Foxconn says it is working to prevent a recurrence of violence
SHANGHAI/TAIPEI, Nov 23 (Reuters) – Hundreds of workers took part in protests at Foxconn’s (2317.TW) flagship iPhone factory in China, with some men smashing security cameras and windows, footage uploaded to social media showed.
China’s rare scenes of open dissent mark an escalation of unrest at the massive factory in Zhengzhou city, which has come to symbolize a dangerous build-up of frustration over the country’s ultra-strict COVID rules and inept handling of the situation by the world’s largest contract manufacturer.
The trigger for the protests, which began early Wednesday, appeared to be a plan to delay bonus payments, many of the protesters said on live stream feeds. The videos could not be immediately verified by Reuters.
“Give us our wages!” workers surrounded by people in full protective suits, some with batons, chanted, according to video footage. Other footage showed tear gas being used and workers tearing down quarantine barriers. Some employees had complained about having to share dormitories with colleagues who had tested positive for COVID-19.
Foxconn said in a statement it had honored its payment contracts and reports of infected staff living on campus with new recruits were “untrue.”
“With regard to violence, the company will continue to communicate with employees and the government to prevent similar incidents from happening again,” the company added.
A source familiar with the situation in Zhengzhou said production at the factory was not affected by the workers’ unrest and production remained “normal”.
Reuters has previously reported that Foxconn was aiming to resume full production at its Zhengzhou iPhone factory by the second half of November.
While the latest turmoil has added “uncertainties” to the target, the source said the company was still working hard to hit it, adding that “only a portion” of new recruits took part in the turmoil.
However, a second source familiar with the matter said Foxconn was unlikely to hit the target, pointing to disruptions caused by the unrest, which particularly affected new recruits hired to bridge the workforce gap .
“Originally we were trying to see if the new recruits could go online at the end of November. But with the turmoil it’s certain we won’t be able to resume normal production by the end of the month.”
Discontent over strict quarantine rules, the company’s inability to stamp out outbreaks, and poor conditions, including food shortages, had led workers to flee the factory campus since Apple Inc.’s supplier (AAPL.O) imposed a so-called closed-loop system on its the world’s largest iPhone factory at the end of October.
In closed-loop operations, employees live and work on-site, isolated from the rest of the world.
Former workers estimate that thousands fled the factory campus. Before the unrest, the Zhengzhou factory employed some 200,000 people. To retain staff and attract more employees, Foxconn had to offer bonuses and higher salaries.
Local authorities also stepped in to help, with some urging retired soldiers and government employees to take on stints, according to local media reports.
The first source said local authorities’ eagerness to recruit workers may have played a role in causing “miscommunication” with the new hires on issues such as fees and housing.
The Zhengzhou government did not immediately respond to a faxed request for comment.
In the videos, workers said they were never sure if they would get meals while quarantined or driving over insufficient curbs to contain an outbreak.
“Foxconn never treats people like people,” said one person.
Apple did not respond to requests for comment.
“It is now clear that closed loop production at Foxconn only helps prevent COVID from spreading to the city, but does nothing (or even makes things worse) for the workers at the factory,” China Labor’s Aiden Chau Bulletin, a Hong Kong-based advocacy group, said in an email.
As of Wednesday afternoon, most of the footage on Kuaishou, a social media platform where Reuters viewed many of the videos, had been removed. Kuaishou did not respond to a request for comment.
The protest footage comes as investors are concerned about escalating global supply chain problems, due in part to China’s zero-COVID policy that aims to stamp out any outbreak.
The curbs and discontent have hit production. Reuters reported last month that iPhone production at the Zhengzhou factory could drop by as much as 30% in November due to COVID restrictions. read more
Foxconn is Apple’s largest iPhone maker, accounting for 70% of iPhone shipments worldwide. It makes most phones at its factory in Zhengzhou, though it has other smaller production sites in India and southern China.
Shares of Foxconn, formally called Hon Hai Precision Industry Co Ltd, are down 2% since the unrest erupted in late October.
Reporting by Brenda Goh and Beijing Newsroom; Additional reporting by David Kirton in Shenzhen, Yimou Lee in Taipei and Yew Lun Tian; Written by Anne Marie Roantree; Edited by Edwina Gibbs, Louise Heavens and Bernadette Baum
Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Principles of Trust.