Foxconn, the electronics company that assembles Apple’s iPhones, apologized Thursday for a pay dispute that sparkedand a violent police pushback at a factory in central China, where anti-virus controls have slowed production.
The escalating unrest at the Zhengzhou factory has continued for at least a month since thousands of workers walked out in October over what they say are unsafe working conditions linked to the spread of COVID-19. All this comes as China grapples with a surge in virus infections, particularly in densely populated cities.
Foxconn hired new employees after the exodus. Allegations that the company illegally changed its policy on new workers who say they were hired with the promise of higher wages than they actually earn have led to protests at the factory.
Videos shared on social media earlier this week showed one particularly large demonstration involving thousands of people in Zhengzhou, wearing masks and facing lines of police wearing protective suits and riot shields. Police kicked and beat a protester with batons after the man grabbed a metal pole with which he was beaten. Eyewitnesses also said that employees of the iPhone factory were beaten and detained amid the protests.
Foxconn, the largest contract assembler of smartphones and other electronics for Apple and other global brands, issued an apology on Thursday amid employee complaints about pay discrepancies. The company blamed a “technical error” in the process of adding new employees and said they would be paid what was promised.
“We apologize for the input error in the computer system and ensure that the actual payment is consistent with the agreed and official job posting,” the company said in a statement. It promised to “make every effort to proactively address the concerns and reasonable demands of employees.”
Apple said late Wednesday that there were people at the Foxconn plant in Zhengzhou.
“We are reviewing the situation and working closely with Foxconn to ensure that their employees’ concerns are resolved,” the Cupertino, California-based company said in a statement.
The dispute comes as the ruling Communist Party tries to contain a surge in coronavirus cases without shutting down factories, as it did in 2020 at the start of the pandemic. Her tactics include “closed-loop management,” or having employees live in their workplaces without outside contact.
Last month, authorities pledged to reduce economic disruption by shortening quarantine times and making other changes to China’s “zero COVID” strategy, which aims to isolate every case. Despite this, the surge in infections has forced authorities to suspend access to neighborhoods and factories and close office buildings, shops and restaurants in some cities.
On Thursday, people in eight districts of Zhengzhou, with a total population of 6.6 million, were ordered to stay at home for five days. Daily mass testing has been ordered for a “war of extermination” against the virus.
Apple previously warned that iPhone 14 shipments would be delayed after employees left the Zhengzhou plant and access to the industrial area around the plant was suspended following the outbreaks.
To attract new workers, Foxconn offered $3,500 for two months of work, according to employees, or nearly 50% more than the highest wages reported in the news.
The workers complained that after they arrived, they were told they had to work two more months at lower pay to get a higher salary, according to employee Li Sanshan.
Foxconn has offered up to $1,400 to new employees who decide to leave, financial publication Cailianshe reported, citing unidentified hiring agents.
Foxconn said in a statement Thursday that departing employees would receive unspecified “care subsidies,” but did not provide details. He promised “full support” for those who remain.
The protests in Zhengzhou come amid public frustration with restrictions that have forced millions to stay at home. Videos on social media show residents in some neighborhoods tearing down barricades set up to force neighborhood closures.
Foxconn, headquartered in New Taipei City, Taiwan, previously denied comments online that employees with the virus were living in factory dormitories.
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