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Foxconn apologizes for wage dispute that sparked violent protests at Chinese iPhone factory

Foxconn, the electronics company that assembles Apple’s iPhones, apologized on Thursday for the wage dispute that arose mass worker protestsand violent police pushback at a factory in central China where anti-virus controls slowed production.

Rising unrest at the Zhengzhou factory has lasted for at least a month since thousands of workers staged a strike in October over what they say is unsafe working conditions linked to the spread of COVID-19. All of this comes as China grapples with a spike in virus infections, especially seen in densely populated cities.

Foxconn hired a slew of new employees after the exodus. Allegations that the company has illegally changed its policy for incoming workers, who say they were hired with the promise of higher pay than they actually receive, sparked protests at the factory.

Videos shared on social media earlier this week appeared to show a particularly large demonstration involving thousands of people in Zhengzhou, wearing masks and facing rows of police officers wearing protective suits and holding riot shields. Police kicked and clubbed a protester after the person grabbed hold of a metal pole used to beat him. Witnesses also said workers at the iPhone factory were beaten and detained during the protests.

Virus outbreak China iPhone factory
In this photo taken on Nov. 23, 2022, security personnel in protective gear were seen removing a person during a protest on the factory grounds of Foxconn Technology Group, which runs the world’s largest Apple iPhone factory in Zhengzhou in central China’s Henan province.

Associated Press

Foxconn, the largest contract repairer of smartphones and other electronics for Apple and other global brands, addressed workers’ complaints about pay differentials on Thursday. The company blamed a “technical error” when adding new employees and said they would get paid what they were promised.

“We apologize for an input error in the computer system and guarantee that the actual wages are the same as agreed and on the official recruitment posters,” a company statement said. It pledged to “do its best to actively resolve employee concerns and reasonable demands”.

Late Wednesday night, Apple said it had people on the ground at Foxconn’s Zhengzhou facility.

“We are reviewing the situation and are working closely with Foxconn to ensure that their employees’ concerns are addressed,” the Cupertino, California-based company said.

The dispute comes as the ruling Communist Party tries to contain a surge in coronavirus cases without closing factories, as it did in 2020 at the start of the pandemic. The tactic includes “closed-loop management,” or letting employees live in their workplace with no outside contact.

Authorities last month pledged to ease economic disruption by reducing quarantine times and making other changes to China’s “zero-COVID” strategy, which aims to isolate each case. Despite this, the wave of infection has prompted authorities to suspend access to neighborhoods and factories and close office buildings, shops and restaurants in parts of many cities.

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. Daily mass testing was ordered for a “war of annihilation” against the virus.

Apple previously warned that iPhone 14 deliveries would be delayed after workers left the Zhengzhou factory and access to the industrial area around the facility was suspended following outbreaks.

To attract new workers, Foxconn offered $3,500 for two months’ work, according to workers, or nearly 50% more than news reports say the highest wages usually are.

Workers complained that upon arrival they were told they had to work for another two months at a lower wage to receive the higher wages, said one worker, Li Sanshan.

Foxconn offered up to $1,400 to new hires who chose to leave, financial news outlet Cailianshe reported, citing unidentified recruiting agents.

Foxconn’s statement Thursday said workers who leave will receive unspecified “care subsidies” but gave no details. It promised “all-encompassing support” for those who remain.

The protests in Zhengzhou stem from public frustration over restrictions that have bound millions of people to their homes. Videos posted on social media show residents tearing down barricades in some areas that were set up to enforce neighborhood closures.

Foxconn, headquartered in New Taipei City, Taiwan, previously denied that it was online comments that workers with the virus were living in factory dormitories.

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