Foxconn says it is working with staff to resolve disputes
Major iPhone factories rocked by protests about wages, conditions
Apple says it has a team on the ground in Zhengzhou
(Quarantine details in paragraph 17, comments from shareholder activists in paragraphs 19-20, share transfer updated)
By Yimou Lee and Brenda Goh
TAIPEI/SHANGHAI, Nov 24 (Reuters) – Apple’s main supplier Foxconn said on Thursday a “technical error” occurred when hiring new recruits at a COVID-hit iPhone factory in China and apologized to workers after the company trapped by fresh labor unrest.
Men broke surveillance cameras and clashed with security personnel as hundreds of workers protested at the world’s largest iPhone plant in the city of Zhengzhou on Wednesday, in rare scenes of open dissent in China over demands for overdue wages and frustration under severe COVID-19 restrictions.
Workers said in videos circulated on social media that they had been informed that Foxconn planned to delay bonus payments. Some workers also complained that they were forced to share dormitories with colleagues who had tested positive for COVID.
“Our team is looking into the matter and found that a technical error occurred during the onboarding process,” Foxconn said in a statement, referring to the hiring of new workers.
“We apologize for an input error in the computer system and we guarantee that the actual salary is as agreed and the official recruitment posters.”
The latest unrest has exposed communication problems and mistrust in Foxconn’s management among some staff, with some workers accusing the company of not acting effectively to limit the spread of COVID and then misleading them about pay.
Foxconn’s apology on Thursday was a source of concern from the day before when it said it had fulfilled its payment contracts.
The larger protests had died down by Thursday and the company was in communication with employees engaged in smaller protests, a Foxconn source familiar with the matter told Reuters.
The person said the company had reached “initial agreements” with employees to resolve the dispute and production at the plant continued Thursday.
The Taiwanese company said it would respect the wishes of new recruits who wanted to quit and leave the factory campus, and would offer them “care subsidies”. A screenshot of a message to employees from Foxconn, seen by Reuters, showed the subsidies amounted to 10,000 yuan ($1,400) per worker.
Zhengzhou announced on Wednesday that it would conduct mass coronavirus testing as China reported 31,444 new daily cases of locally acquired COVID.
In some ways, Foxconn’s Zhengzhou plant operates like a small city. There are over 200,000 workers in the compound, and there are dormitories, restaurants, basketball courts and a football field throughout its sprawling facility of about 1.4 million square meters.
The factory, which makes Apple Inc devices including the iPhone 14 Pro and Pro Max, makes 70% of iPhone shipments worldwide.
Foxconn workers told Reuters that the Apple supplier used an apartment complex near the factory to house infected workers and their close contacts when the outbreak first came to light in October.
Apple said it had staff at the factory and was “working closely with Foxconn to ensure the concerns of their employees are addressed”.
Some shareholder activists told Reuters that the protests highlighted the risks Apple faces by relying on manufacturing in China.
“Because of Apple’s heavy reliance on China, both as a (consumer) market and as a place of primary manufacturing, we see it as a very risky situation,” said Christina O’Connell, senior manager at SumOfUs, a nonprofit corporate accountability group. .
Reuters earlier reported that iPhone output at the Zhengzhou factory could fall by as much as 30% in November following worker unrest last month, and that Foxconn aimed to resume full production there by the second half of the month.
Apple has warned that it expects lower shipments of premium iPhone 14 models than previously thought.
The factory has been plagued by worker unrest and discontent since October.
Some staff fled the campus rather than submit to Foxconn’s so-called closed-loop system, which requires workers to live and work on site.
Foxconn shares closed up 0.5% on Thursday, compared with a 1.2% gain in the broader market. ($1 = 7.1353 recalculated Chinese yuan)
(Reporting by Yimou Lee in Taipei and Brenda Goh in Shanghai; Additional reporting by Ross Kerber in Boston, Beijing Newsroom and Yew Lun Tian; Editing by Anne Marie Roantree and Stephen Coates)