Foxconn protests: iPhone factory offers to pay its workers to quit and leave Zhengzhou campus

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Hong Kong
CNN Business

Foxconn has offered to pay newly recruited workers 10,000 yuan ($1,400) to quit and leave the world’s largest iPhone assembly plant in an effort to quell protests where hundreds clashed with security forces on the ground in central China.

The Apple supplier made the offer on Wednesday after dramatic scenes of violent protests at its campus in Zhengzhou, capital of Henan province, in a text message sent from its human resources department to workers.

In the announcement, seen by CNN, the company urged workers to “return to your dormitories” on campus. It also promised to pay them 8,000 yuan if they agreed to leave Foxconn, and another 2,000 yuan after they board buses to leave the sprawling area entirely.

The protest broke out on Tuesday evening over the terms of the new employees’ payment packages and Covid-related concerns about their living conditions. The scenes turned increasingly violent on Wednesday as workers clashed in large numbers of security forces, including SWAT team officers.

Videos circulating on social media showed groups of law enforcement officers dressed in hazmat suits kicking and hitting protesters with batons and metal rods. Some workers were seen tearing down fences, throwing bottles and barriers at officers and smashing and overturning police cars.

A group of security officers dressed in hazmat suits kick and punch a worker lying on the ground.

The protest largely ended around 22 on Wednesday, as workers returned to their dormitories after receiving Foxconn’s payment offer and feared a tougher crackdown by authorities, a witness told CNN.

The Zhengzhou factory was hit by a Covid outbreak in October, which forced it to shut down and led to a mass exodus of workers fleeing the outbreak. Foxconn later launched a massive recruitment drive in which more than 100,000 people signed up to fill the posted positions, Chinese state media reported.

According to a document detailing the pay package for new hires seen by CNN, workers were promised a bonus of 3,000 yuan after 30 days on the job, with another 3,000 yuan to be paid after a total of 60 days.

But according to one worker, after arriving at the factory, the new recruits were told by Foxconn that they would only receive the first bonus on March 15 and the second installment in May – meaning they will have to work through the Lunar New Year holiday, which starts in January 2023, to receive the first of the bonus payouts.

“The new recruits had to work several days to get the bonus they were promised, so they felt cheated,” the worker told CNN.

Workers throw parts of the metal barriers they have torn down at the police.

In a statement Thursday, Foxconn said it fully understood the new recruits’ concerns about “possible changes in subsidy policy,” which it blamed on “a technical error (that) occurred during the onboarding process.”

“We apologize for an entry error in the computer system and guarantee that the actual salary is the same as agreed,” it said.

Foxconn communicated with employees and assured them that salaries and bonuses would be paid “in accordance with company policies,” it said.

Apple, for which Foxconn makes a number of products, told CNN Business that its employees were on the ground at the Zhengzhou plant.

“We are reviewing the situation and working closely with Foxconn to ensure that their employees’ concerns are addressed,” it said in a statement.

By Thursday morning, some workers who had agreed to leave had received the first installment of payment, one worker said in a live stream that showed workers queuing outside to take Covid tests while waiting for departing buses. Later in the day, live streams showed long lines of workers boarding buses.

But for some, the trouble is far from over. After being driven to Zhengzhou train station, many could not get a ticket home, another worker said in a live stream Thursday afternoon. Like him, thousands of workers were stuck at the station, he said, turning his camera to show the large crowds.

Zhengzhou is set to impose a five-day lockdown in its urban areas, which includes the train station, from midnight on Friday, authorities had previously announced.

Workers face hazmat-suited safety officers.

The protest started outside workers’ dormitories on the sprawling Foxconn campus Tuesday evening, with hundreds marching and chanting slogans including “Down with Foxconn,” according to social media videos and a witness account. Videos showed workers clashing with security guards and fighting tear gas fired by police.

The stand-off lasted until Wednesday morning. The situation quickly escalated as a large number of security forces, most covered in white hazmat suits and some with shields and batons, were deployed to the scene. Videos showed columns of police vehicles, some marked “SWAT,” arriving at the campus, normally home to about 200,000 workers.

Several workers joined the protest after watching live streams on video platforms Kuaishou and Douyin, the Chinese version of TikTok, the worker told CNN. Many live streams were cut or censored. Online searches for “Foxconn” in Chinese have been limited.

Some protesters marched to the main gate of the manufacturing facility, which is in a separate area from workers’ dormitories, in an attempt to block the assembly work, the worker said.

Other protesters took the further step of breaking into the manufacturing facility. They smashed Covid test booths, glass doors and billboards at restaurants in the production area, according to the worker.

After working at the Zhengzhou factory for six years, he said he was now deeply disappointed with Foxconn and planned to quit. With a monthly base salary of 2,300 yuan, he has earned between 4,000 yuan and 5,000 yuan a month, including overtime pay, and has worked 10 hours a day, seven days a week during the pandemic.

“Foxconn is a Taiwanese company,” he said. “Not only did it not spread Taiwan’s values ​​of democracy and freedom to the mainland, it was assimilated by the Chinese Communist Party and became so cruel and inhumane. I am very sorry.”

Although he was not one of the new recruits, he protested with them in support, adding: “If today I remain silent about the suffering of others, who will speak for me tomorrow?”

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