Workers at the world’s largest Apple iPhone factory have been beaten and arrested during protests over contract disputes amid antivirus checks, according to workers and videos posted to social media.
- Protests appear to have started after bonus payments were delayed
- The footage shows the use of tear gas
- Workers also complained about inadequate health measures and the uncertainty that they would be fed during the quarantine
Videos on Chinese social media reportedly filmed at the factory in downtown Zhengzhou showed thousands of people wearing masks facing rows of police officers in white hazmat suits holding plastic shields.
Footage showed one person being hit in the head with a truncheon, another being taken away with their arms behind their back and protesters spraying fire extinguishers at police.
The rare scenes of open dissent in China mark an escalation in unrest at the massive factory in the city of Zhengzhou, which has become symbolic of a dangerous buildup of frustration at the country’s ultra-tough COVID rules, as well as clumsy handling of the situation around the world largest contract manufacturer.
The trigger for the protests that began early Wednesday was apparently a plan to delay bonus payments, many demonstrators said in live streams.
“Give us our wages!” chanted workers surrounded by people in hazmat suits, some carrying batons, according to video footage.
Other footage showed tear gas being used and workers tearing down quarantine barriers.
In the videos, workers vented about never being sure if they would get meals during the quarantine or complained that there were insufficient curbs to contain an outbreak.
The factory operator, Foxconn Technology Group, previously said it uses “closed-loop management,” which refers to employees living incommunicado at their workplace.
“Foxconn never treats people like people,” said one person.
Protest comes after mass walk
Thousands of employees have been resigning over the past month over complaints about inadequate virus protection and a lack of help for sick colleagues.
Videos circulating on social media showed workers carrying bags of belongings and walking, while some volunteers left food and water for the workers on the streets.
Apple previously warned that deliveries of its new iPhone 14 model would be delayed due to anti-disease controls imposed on the Zhengzhou factory.
Foxconn accounts for 70 percent of iPhone shipments worldwide.
It makes most of the phones at its Zhengzhou plant, but also has other smaller manufacturing facilities in India and southern China.
The city government blocked access to an industrial area surrounding the factory, which Foxconn says employs 200,000 people.
According to earlier reports, the ruling Communist Party had ordered “rank and file cadres” to fill in for Foxconn employees in Zhengzhou who had left.
Workers promised higher wages, better conditions
China is the only major country in the world still trying to curb virus transmission through strict lockdown measures and mass testing, and the strategy is being tested by multiple outbreaks caused by fast-spreading Omicron variants.
Protests have flared as the number and severity of outbreaks have increased across China, including in Beijing.
Earlier this week, authorities reported multiple COVID-19 deaths for the first time in six months.
The Chinese government said Tuesday that more than 253,000 coronavirus cases have been found in the past three weeks and the daily average is rising.
Foxconn and the local government have promised high wages and better working conditions to attract new workers to the factory.
Meanwhile, the COVID curbs remain in place, with the factory saying it will continue its “closed system” to reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission.
The Foxconn facility in Zhengzhou can accommodate up to 350,000 factory workers, but it’s not clear how many are currently employed at the factory.
It’s also unclear how many of them left or how many were affected by COVID-19 curbs introduced at the factory before they left.
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