BEIJING — Police beat up workers protesting a wage dispute at the largest factory for Apple’s iPhone, whose new model is being delayed by imposed controls as China tries to contain a surge in COVID-19 cases.
Foxconn, the largest contract repairer of smartphones and other electronics, is struggling to fulfill orders for the iPhone 14 after thousands of workers left its factory in the central city of Zhengzhou last month over complaints of unsafe working conditions.
China’s status as an export superpower is based on factories like Foxconn’s that assemble the world’s consumer electronics, toys and other goods.
The ruling Communist Party is trying to contain the latest wave of outbreaks without factories and closing the rest of its economy as early as 2020. Its tactics include “closed-loop management,” where workers live in their factories without outside contact.
Foxconn offered a higher wage to attract more workers to the Zhengzhou factory to assemble the iPhone 14, which retails for $799 in the United States.
A protest erupted on Tuesday after workers who had traveled long distances to take jobs at the factory complained that the company had changed their wage terms, said one worker, Li Sanshan.
Li said he quit his catering job when he saw an ad promising 25,000 yuan ($3,500) for two months’ work. That would be a significant increase in the average wage for this type of work in the area.
After the workers arrived, the company said they had to work an additional two months at reduced wages to receive the 25,000 yuan, according to Li.
“Foxconn put out very tempting recruitment offers, and employees from all parts of the country came, only to find they were being duped,” he said.
Videos online showed thousands of people in masks facing rows of police in white protective suits with plastic riot shields. Police kicked and clubbed a protester after he grabbed hold of a metal pole that had been used to beat him. People who shot the footage said it was filmed at the location.
The protests in Zhengzhou come as the ruling Communist Party faces growing frustration over restrictions in areas across China that have closed shops and offices and confined millions of people to their homes.
This has resulted in protests in some cities. Videos posted on social media show residents tearing down barricades set up to enforce neighborhood closures.
The ruling party vowed this month to try to ease disruptions by shortening quarantines and making other changes. But the party is sticking to a “zero COVID” strategy that aims to isolate each case as other governments relax controls and try to live with the virus.
The protest in Zhengzhou lasted through Wednesday morning when thousands of workers gathered outside dormitories and confronted factory security workers, Li said.
Apple Inc. did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The company previously warned that iPhone 14 deliveries would be delayed after access to an industrial area around its Zhengzhou factory, where Foxconn says 200,000 people work, was suspended following outbreaks.
Other videos showed protesters spraying fire extinguishers at police.
A man identifying himself as the Communist Party secretary in charge of community services was shown in a video posted to the social media platform Sina Weibo urging protesters to back down. He assured them that their demands would be met.
Foxconn, headquartered in New Taipei City, Taiwan, said its contractual obligation on payments has “always been met”.
The company denied what it said were online comments that workers with the virus were living in dormitories at the Zhengzhou factory. It said facilities were disinfected and checked by the government before workers moved in.
“With regard to violence, the company will continue to communicate with employees and the government to prevent similar incidents from happening again,” a company statement said.
Protests flared as the number and severity of outbreaks increased across China, prompting authorities in cities including Beijing, the capital, to close neighborhoods and impose other restrictions that residents say go beyond what the national government allows.
More than 253,000 cases have been diagnosed in the past three weeks and the daily average is rising, the government reported on Tuesday. This week, authorities reported China’s first COVID-19 deaths in six months.
On Wednesday, the government reported that it had found 28,883 cases in the past 24 hours, including 26,242 with no symptoms. Henan province and Zhengzhou, the provincial capital, reported 851.
The government will maintain its anti-COVID policy while “resolutely overcoming the mentality of paralysis and laxity,” National Health Commission spokesman Mi Feng said.
The city government of Guangzhou, the site of the largest outbreaks, has announced that it has opened 19 temporary hospitals totaling nearly 70,000 beds for coronavirus patients. The city announced plans last week to build hospitals and quarantine facilities for 250,000 people.
Also on Wednesday, Beijing opened a hospital in an exhibition center and suspended access to Beijing International Studies University after a virus case was found there. The capital previously closed shopping centers and office buildings and suspended access to some apartment complexes.
Zen Soo reported from Hong Kong. AP news aide Caroline Chen contributed.