Police beat workers protesting a wage dispute at Apple’s biggest iPhone factory, whose new model is being delayed by controls imposed as China tries to contain a surge in COVID-19 cases.
Foxconn, the biggest contract assembler of smartphones and other electronics, is struggling to fill orders for the iPhone 14 after thousands of workers walked out of a factory in the central city of Zhengzhou last month following complaints about unsafe working conditions.
China’s status as an exporting power is based on factories like Foxconn’s, which assemble consumer electronics, toys and other products around the world.
The ruling Communist Party is trying to contain the latest wave of outbreaks without shutting down factories and the rest of its economy as it did in early 2020. Its tactics include “closed-loop management,” in which workers live in their factories without exterior contact
Foxconn has offered a higher wage to attract more workers to the Zhengzhou factory to assemble the iPhone 14, which starts at $799 in the United States.
On Tuesday, a protest broke out after employees who had traveled long distances to work at the factory complained that the company had changed their wage conditions, according to one employee, Li Sanshan.
Li said he quit a catering job when he saw an ad promising 25,000 yuan ($3,500) for two months of work. That would mean a significant increase over the average salary for this type of work in the area.
After the employees arrived, the company said they had to work two more months at a lower salary to receive the 25,000 yuan, according to Li.
“Foxconn put out very tempting recruitment offers and workers came from all over the country, only to find they were being ripped off,” he said.
Online videos showed thousands of masked people facing lines of police in white protective suits with plastic riot shields. Police kicked and beat a protester with batons after he grabbed a metal pole that had been used to beat him. The people who shot the footage said it was filmed on 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 to their homes.
That turned into protests in some cities. Videos on social media show residents tearing down barricades set up to enforce neighborhood closures.
The ruling party pledged this month to try to reduce disruptions by shortening quarantines and making other changes. But the party is pursuing a “zero COVID” strategy that aims to isolate all cases while other governments relax controls and try to live with the virus.
The protest in Zhengzhou lasted until Wednesday morning when thousands of workers gathered outside dormitories and confronted factory security workers, according to Li.
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 zone around the Zhengzhou factory, which Foxconn says employs 200,000 people, was suspended following the outbreaks.
Other videos showed protesters spraying fire extinguishers at police.
A man who identified himself as the Communist Party secretary in charge of community services was shown in a video posted on the social media platform Sina Weibo urging the protesters to withdraw. He assured them that their demands will be met.
Foxconn, which is headquartered in New Taipei City, Taiwan, said its contractual obligation on payments “has always been met.”
The company denied what it said were comments online that employees with the virus were living in dormitories at the Zhengzhou factory. He said the facilities were disinfected and passed government checks before employees entered.
“Regarding any violence, the company will continue to communicate with employees and the government to prevent similar incidents from happening again,” a company statement said.
Protests have escalated as the number and severity of outbreaks have increased across China, prompting authorities in areas such as the capital Beijing to lock down neighborhoods and impose other restrictions that residents say go beyond what is allowed the national government.
More than 253,000 cases have been found in the last three weeks and the daily average is increasing, as reported by the government this Tuesday. This week, authorities reported the first deaths from COVID-19 in China in six months.
On Wednesday, the government reported 28,883 cases found in the past 24 hours, including 26,242 without symptoms. Henan province and Zhengzhou, the provincial capital, reported 851.
The government will implement its anti-COVID policy while “resolutely overcoming the mentality of paralysis and laxity,” said a spokesman for the National Health Commission, Mi Feng.
The city government of Guangzhou, the site of the largest outbreak, has announced that it has opened 19 temporary hospitals with a total of 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 University of International Studies after a case of the virus was found there. The capital earlier closed shopping centers and office buildings and suspended access to some apartment complexes.