Workers at COVID-hit iPhone factory in China beaten, detained after protests

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BEIJING – Police beat workers protesting a wage dispute at the biggest factory for Apple’s iPhone, whose new model has been delayed by controls imposed as China tries to curb a surge in COVID-19 cases.

Foxconn
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the largest contract assembler of smartphones and other electronics, is struggling to fill orders for the iPhone 14 after thousands of workers walked out of the factory in the central city of Zhengzhou last month following complaints about unsafe working conditions.

China’s status as an export powerhouse is based on factories like Foxconn’s that assemble the world’s consumer electronics, toys and other goods.

The ruling Communist Party is trying to contain the latest wave of outbreaks without shutting down factories and the rest of its economy, as it did in early 2020. Its tactics include “closed-loop management”, where workers live in their factories without any outside contact.

Foxconn offered higher wages to attract more workers to the Zhengzhou factory to assemble the iPhone 14, which retails from $799 in the US.

On Tuesday, a protest erupted after workers who had traveled long distances to take jobs at the factory complained that the company was changing the terms of their wages, according to one worker, Li Sanshan.

Li said he quit a catering job when he saw an ad promising 25,000 yuan ($3,500) for two months’ work. That would be a significant increase over the average wage for this type of work in the area.

After the employees arrived, the company told them to work another two months at lower wages to receive the 25,000 yuan, according to Li.

“Foxconn released very tempting recruitment offers and workers from all over the country came, only to find they were laughed at,” he said.

Videos online showed thousands of people in masks facing lines of police in white protective suits with plastic riot gear. Police kicked and clubbed a protester after he grabbed a metal pole that had been used to beat him. People who shot the footage said it was shot on location.

The protests in Zhengzhou come as the ruling Communist Party faces growing frustration over restrictions in areas across China that have closed shops and offices and confined millions of people to their homes.

It has boiled over into protests in some cities. Videos on social media show residents tearing down barricades set up to enforce neighborhood closures.

The ruling party pledged this month to try to reduce disruption by shortening quarantines and making other changes. But the party is sticking to a “zero COVID” strategy that aims to isolate all cases, while other governments are easing controls and trying to live with the virus.

The protest in Zhengzhou lasted until Wednesday morning, when thousands of workers gathered outside dormitories and confronted factory security workers, according to Li.

Apple Inc.
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did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The company previously warned that iPhone 14 deliveries would be delayed after access to an industrial zone around the Zhengzhou factory, which Foxconn says employs 200,000 people, was suspended following the outbreak.

Other videos showed protesters spraying fire extinguishers at police.

A man who identified himself as the Communist Party secretary in charge of community services was shown in a video posted on the Sina Weibo social media platform urging protesters to withdraw. He assured them that their demands would be met.

Foxconn, whose headquarters are in New Taipei City, Taiwan, said its contractual obligation for payments “has always been met.”

The company denied what it said were comments online that employees with the virus were living in dormitories at the Zhengzhou factory. It said the facilities were disinfected and passed state inspections before employees moved in.

“Regarding any form of violence, the company will continue to communicate with employees and the government to prevent similar incidents from happening again,” a company statement said.

Foxconn offered up to 10,000 yuan ($1,400) to newly hired employees who wanted to quit and return home, financial news outlet Cailianshe reported, citing unidentified recruitment agents.

Foxconn did not respond to a request for confirmation or details.

Protests have flared up in tandem with number and severity of outbreaks have surged across China, prompting areas including Beijing, the capital, to lock down neighborhoods and impose other restrictions that residents say go beyond what the national government allows.

More than 253,000 cases have been found in the past three weeks, and the daily average is rising, the government reported on Tuesday. This week, authorities reported China’s first COVID-19 death in six months.

The government will enforce its anti-COVID policy while “resolutely overcoming the mindset of paralysis and laxity,” National Health Commission spokesman Mi Feng said.

Early Thursday, the government reported a total of 31,656 cases found in the past 24 hours, including 27,646 without symptoms and 212 infections it said were acquired abroad. The total was up about 10% from the previous day.

Also on Thursday, people in eight districts of Zhengzhou, with a total population of 6.6 million, were told to stay at home for five days and only go out to buy food or for medical treatment. Daily mass testing was ordered in what the city government called a “war of extermination” against the virus.

The city government of Guangzhou, the site of the largest outbreak, announced on Wednesday that it was opening 19 temporary hospitals with a total of nearly 70,000 beds for coronavirus patients. The city announced plans last week to build hospitals and quarantine facilities for 250,000 people.

Also on Wednesday, Beijing opened a hospital in an exhibition center and suspended access to Beijing International Studies University after a virus case was found there. The capital previously closed shopping malls and office buildings and suspended access to some apartment complexes.

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