Huge Foxconn iPhone plant in China rocked by fresh labor unrest

  • Online images show hundreds of workers protesting
  • Surveillance cameras and windows broken by men with sticks
  • Workers complain about late pay, insufficient food
  • Foxconn says working to prevent repeat violence

SHANGHAI/TAIPEI, Nov 23 (Reuters) – Hundreds of workers joined protests at Foxconn’s (2317.TW) flagship iPhone plant in China, with some men breaking surveillance cameras and windows, footage posted on Twitter showed. social networks.

The rare scenes of open dissent in China mark an escalation of unrest at the massive factory in the city of Zhengzhou that has come to symbolize a dangerous buildup of frustration with the country’s ultra-tough COVID rules, as well as the inept handling of the situation by part of the government. largest contract manufacturer in the world.

The trigger for the protests, which began early on Wednesday, appeared to be a plan to delay bond payments, many of the protesters said in live streams. The videos could not be immediately verified by Reuters.

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

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

“Regarding 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 output at the plant was not affected by the worker unrest and production remained “normal.”

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

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

However, a second source familiar with the matter said Foxconn was unlikely to hit the mark, pointing to disruptions caused by the riots, which particularly affected new recruits who were brought in to close the gap in the workforce.

“Originally, we were trying to see if the new recruits could come online at the end of November. But with the unrest, we certainly can’t resume normal production at the end of the month.”

RECRUITMENT CAMPAIGN

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

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

Former workers have 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 has had to offer higher wages and bonuses.

Local authorities also stepped in to help, with some urging retired soldiers and government workers to get involved, according to local media reports.

The first source said the eagerness of local authorities to recruit workers may have played a role in causing the “lack of communication” with new employees on issues such as allowance and accommodation.

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

WORKER ISSUES

In the videos, workers said they were never sure if they would receive meals while in quarantine or on curbs unsuitable for containing an outbreak.

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

Apple did not respond to requests for comment.

“It is now apparent that closed-loop production at Foxconn only helps prevent COVID from spreading to the city, but does nothing (if not worsen) for factory workers,” China Labor Bulletin’s Aiden Chau, 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 many of the videos were reviewed by Reuters, had been removed. Kuaishou did not respond to a request for comment.

The images of the protest come at a time when investors are worried about escalating global supply chain problems, due in part to China’s zero-COVID policies that aim to stamp out all outbreaks.

Curbs and discontent have hit production. Reuters reported last month that iPhone production at the Zhengzhou factory could drop 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 globally. It makes most of the phones at the Zhengzhou plant, though it has other, smaller production sites in India and southern China.

Shares in Foxconn, formally called Hon Hai Precision Industry Co Ltd, have fallen 2% since unrest broke out 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: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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