Violent clashes have broken out at China’s biggest iPhone factory with angry workers protesting against brutal Covid rules and dismal living conditions.
Hazmat-wearing officials could be seen viciously beating one man with sticks while cops desperately attempted to convince workers to return to their accommodation amid on-running protests at the Foxconn factory in Zhengzhou.
According to livestream feeds by the workers, the trigger for the protests, which began early Wednesday in China, was a plan to delay bonus payments.
In a rare show of dissent, furious protesters shouted: ‘Defend our rights! Defend our rights!’, with some men smashing surveillance cameras and windows with sticks.
In another clip, workers chanted: ‘Give us our pay!’ while they were surrounded by the officials. A night-time video showed a man with a bloodied face as someone off-camera says: ‘They’re hitting people, hitting people. Do they have a conscience?’
Tear gas was also deployed in the violent clashes, with workers taking down quarantine barriers.
The furious employees have been left enraged by their living and working conditions at the factory under a ‘closed loop’ system which was implemented by the Apple Inc supplier in late October- meaning that staff live and work on site isolated from the outside world.
As a result, unrest has escalated at the building and thousands of the 200,000 people employed at the plant in a recruitment drive before the tensions have fled. Workers who have left are furious over strict quarantine rules, the company’s inability to stamp out outbreaks and poor conditions including food shortages.
Foxconn has been forced to offer bonuses and higher salaries in order to retain staff and lure more workers.
In the aftermath of the protests, one new worker told the BBC that he had seen ‘one man with blood over his head lying on the ground.’
He added: ‘I didn’t know the exact reason why people are protesting but they are mixing us new workers with old workers who were [Covid] positive.’
It comes after some of the employees at the factory complained that they have had to share dormitories with colleagues who tested positive for COVID-19.
Workers also complained about the lack of action or curbs in place from the factory to contain a Covid outbreak. One person said: ‘Foxconn never treats humans as humans.’
One employee said on a livestream: ‘They changed the contract so that we could not get the subsidy as they had promised. They quarantine us but don’t provide food. If they do not address our needs, we will keep fighting.’
The man also claimed to have seen a man ‘severely injured’ after being beaten by police.
In an email, Aiden Chau of China Labour Bulletin, a Hong Kong-based advocacy group, said: ‘It’s now evident that closed-loop production in Foxconn only helps in preventing COVID from spreading to the city, but does nothing (if not make it even worse) for the workers in the factory.’
However, a source familiar with the situation in Zhengzhou said production at the plant was unaffected by the worker unrest and output remained ‘normal’.
Most of the footage from the protests which had been posted on Chinese social media site Kuaishou was taken down as of Wednesday afternoon.
China still lives with militant coronavirus rules, almost three years after the pandemic was first identified.
Investors are now concerned about escalating global supply chain issues partly due to the zero-COVID policies.
Their curbs and discontent have hit production and it was last month reported that the iPhone output at the Zhengzhou factory could have slumped as much as 30 per cent this month due to COVID restrictions.
However, one source denied that production was affected by the worker unrest and said output remained ‘normal’.
This is despite the fact it was previously reported that Foxconn aimed to resume full production at the Zhengzhou iPhone plant by the second half of November.
The source said that the latest unrest has added ‘uncertainties’ to the target, but the company was still working hard to hit it, adding that ‘only a portion’ of the new recruits took part in the unrest.
But a second source said said Foxconn was unlikely to hit the target, pointing to disruptions triggered by the unrest, impacting particularly new recruits who were hired to bridge the gap in the workforce.
‘Originally, we were trying to see if the new recruits could go online by the end of November. But with the unrest, it’s certain that we can’t resume normal production by the month-end.’
The company is Apple’s biggest iPhone maker, accounting for 70 per cent of shipments globally. Most of the phones are made at the Zhengzhou plant but the company has smaller production sites in India and southern China.
Shares of Foxconn, formally called Hon Hai Precision Industry Co Ltd, have slipped 2% since the unrest emerged in late October.
Foxconn said in a statement it had fulfilled its payment contracts and that reports of staff with COVID-19 living on campus were ‘untrue.’ According to the BBC, the company said that dormitories were disinfected and checked by local officials before new people moved in.
‘Regarding any violence, the company will continue to communicate with employees and the government to prevent similar incidents from happening again,’ the company added.