Foxconn has offered to pay newly hired workers 10,000 yuan ($1,400) to quit and leave the world’s largest iPhone assembly plant to quell protests that have seen hundreds clashed with security forces at the compound in central China.
The Apple supplier made the offer Wednesday after dramatic scenes of violent protests at its campus in Zhengzhou, capital of Henan province, in a text message sent to workers by its human resources department.
In the message, seen by CNN, the company urged workers to “please return to their dormitories” on campus. It also promised them 8,000 yuan if they agreed to leave Foxconn and another 2,000 yuan after they boarded buses to fully exit the sprawling compound.
The protest erupted Tuesday night over the terms of the new hires’ payment packages and COVID-related concerns about their living conditions. Scenes turned increasingly violent on Wednesday as workers clashed with large numbers of security forces, including SWAT team officers.
Videos circulating on social media showed groups of law enforcement officers in hazmat suits kicking and hitting protesters with batons and metal bars. Some workers were seen tearing down fences, throwing bottles and barricades at officers, and smashing and overturning police vehicles.
The protest largely ended around 10 p.m. Wednesday, when workers returned to their dormitories after receiving Foxconn’s offer of payment and fearing tougher action from authorities, a witness told CNN.
The Zhengzhou plant was hit by a COVID outbreak in October, forcing it to close and leading to a mass exodus of workers fleeing the outbreak. Foxconn later launched a massive recruitment campaign, with more than 100,000 people signing up for the advertised positions, Chinese state media reported.
According to a document setting out the salary package of new hires seen by CNN, workers were promised a bonus of 3,000 yuan after 30 days on the job, with an additional 3,000 yuan to be paid after a total of 60 days.
However, according to a worker, once the new hires arrived at Foxconn’s plant, they were told they would not receive the first bonus until March 15 and the second installment in May – meaning they will have to work through the Lunar New Year holiday, which falls in January 2023 begins to receive the first bonus payments.
“The new recruits had to work more days to get the promised bonus, so they felt cheated,” the worker told CNN.
In a statement Thursday, Foxconn said it understands the new recruits’ concerns about “possible changes in the subsidy policy,” which it attributed to “a technical error(s) during the onboarding process.”
“We apologize for an input error in the IT system and guarantee that the actual payment corresponds to that agreed,” it said.
Foxconn communicated with employees, reassuring them that salaries and bonuses would be paid “in accordance with company policies,” it said.
Apple, for which Foxconn makes a number of products, told CNN Business that its employees are on site at the Zhengzhou facility.
“We are reviewing the situation and working closely with Foxconn to ensure their employees’ concerns are addressed,” it said in a statement.
As of Thursday morning, some workers who had agreed to leave had received the first part of the payment, a worker said on a livestream showing workers queuing outside to conduct COVID tests while waiting for departing buses . Later in the day, livestreams showed long lines of workers boarding buses.
But for some, the trouble is far from over. After being driven to Zhengzhou Railway Station, many were unable to get a ticket home, another worker said on a livestream Thursday afternoon. Like him, thousands of workers are stuck at the station, he said, while rotating his camera to show the large crowds.
Zhengzhou is expected to impose a five-day lockdown in its wards, which includes the railway station, starting at midnight on Friday, authorities had previously announced.
The protest began Tuesday night outside workers’ dormitories on the sprawling Foxconn campus, with hundreds marching and chanting slogans including “Down with Foxconn,” according to social media videos and a witness account. Videos showed workers clashed with security forces and fought off tear gas fired by police.
The standoff lasted until Wednesday morning. The situation quickly escalated when large numbers of security forces, most dressed in white hazmat suits and some carrying shields and batons, were dispatched to the scene. Videos showed columns of police vehicles, some marked “SWAT,” arriving at the campus, which is typically home to about 200,000 workers.
Other workers joined the protest after watching live streams on video platforms Kuaishou and Douyin, the Chinese version of TikTok, the worker told CNN. Many live streams have been shortened or censored. Online searches for “Foxconn” in Chinese have been restricted.
Some protesters marched to the main gate of the manufacturing plant’s compound, which is in a separate area from workers’ dormitories, to block assembly work, the worker said.
Other protesters took the further step of breaking into the manufacturing site. According to the worker, they smashed COVID testing booths, glass doors and billboards in restaurants in the production area.
After working at the Zhengzhou plant for six years, he said he is now deeply disappointed in Foxconn and plans to quit. With a monthly base salary of 2,300 yuan, he makes between 4,000 and 5,000 yuan a month, including overtime, and works 10 hours a day, seven days a week during the pandemic.
“Foxconn is a Taiwanese company,” he said. “Not only has it failed to spread Taiwan’s values of democracy and freedom to the mainland, it has been assimilated by the Chinese Communist Party and has become so cruel and inhumane. I am very sad about that.”
Although he was not among the new recruits, he protested with them in support, adding, “If today I am silent about the suffering of others, who will speak for me tomorrow?”
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