Massive Foxconn iPhone plant in China rocked by fresh worker unrest

By Brenda Goh and Yimou Lee

SHANGHAI/TAIPEI (Reuters) – Hundreds of workers joined protests at Foxconn’s main iPhone plant in China, with some men smashing cameras and surveillance windows, footage uploaded to social media showed.

Rare scenes of open dissent in China mark an escalation of unrest at the huge factory in the city of Zhengzhou that has come to symbolize a dangerous build-up of frustration with the country’s ultra-tough COVID rules and the country’s inept handling of the situation. of the largest contract manufacturer in the world.

The trigger for the protests, which began early Wednesday, appeared to be a plan to delay bonus payments, several of the protesters said on live stream feeds. The videos could not be immediately verified by Reuters.

“Give us our pay!” chanted workers surrounded by people in full hazmat suits, some with batons, according to video footage. Other footage showed workers deploying tear gas and tearing down quarantine barriers. Some workers had complained that they were forced to share dormitories with colleagues who tested positive for COVID-19.

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Foxconn said in a statement that it had fulfilled its payment agreements and that reports of infected staff living on campus with new recruits were “false”.

“As regards any 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 that production at the plant was not affected by the workers’ unrest and production remained “normal”.

Reuters previously reported that Foxconn aimed to resume full production at its Zhengzhou iPhone plant by the second half of November.

While the latest riots have added “uncertainty” to the target, the source said the company is still working hard to hit it, adding that “only a fraction” of the new recruits took part in the riots.

A second source familiar with the matter, however, said Foxconn was unlikely to hit the target, pointing to disruptions triggered by the unrest, which has particularly impacted new recruits who have been brought on board to fill the gap in the workforce. .

“Initially, we were looking to see if the new recruits could go online by the end of November. But with the unrest, it is certain that we cannot resume normal production by the end of the month.”

Discontent with strict quarantine rules, the company’s inability to eradicate outbreaks and poor conditions, including food shortages, had forced workers to flee the factory campus since Apple Inc.’s supplier imposed a so-called closed-loop system at the world’s largest iPhone plant at the end of October .

In closed-loop operations, staff live and work on site, isolated from the rest of the world.

Former workers estimated that thousands fled the factory campus. Before the riots, the Zhengzhou plant employed about 200,000 people. To retain staff and attract more workers, Foxconn had to offer higher wages and bonuses.

Local authorities have also stepped in to help, with some urging retired soldiers and government employees to take up periods of work, local media reported.

The first source said local authorities’ eagerness to hire workers may have played a part in causing “miscommunication” with new hires on issues including benefits and housing.

The Zhengzhou government did not immediately respond to a faxed request for comment.

In the videos, workers vented about how they were never sure of getting meals during quarantine or about inadequate limits to contain an outbreak.

“Foxconn never treats humans like humans,” said one person.

Apple did not respond to requests for comment.

“It is now evident that closed-loop manufacturing at Foxconn only helps prevent the spread of COVID in the city, but does nothing (if not make matters worse) for the factory workers,” said Aiden Chau of China Labor Bulletin, a Hong Kong-based advocacy group, he said in an email.

As of Wednesday afternoon, most of the footage on Kuaishou, a social media platform where Reuters reviewed many of the videos, had been removed. Kuaishou did not respond to a request for comment.

The outcry images come as investors are concerned about escalating global supply chain issues, in part due to China’s zero-COVID policies that aim to end any outbreaks.

Brakes and discontent affected production. Reuters last month reported that iPhone production at its Zhengzhou factory could plummet by up to 30% in November due to COVID restrictions.

Foxconn is Apple’s largest iPhone maker, accounting for 70% of iPhone shipments globally. It makes most of the phones at its Zhengzhou plant, although it has other smaller manufacturing sites in India and southern China.

Shares of Foxconn, formally called Hon Hai Precision Industry Co Ltd, are down 2% since the riots emerged 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; Writing by Anne Marie Roantree; Editing by Edwina Gibbs, Louise Heavens, and Bernadette Baum)

Copyright 2022 Thomson Reuters.

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