Foxconn has offered to pay newly hired workers 10,000 yuan ($1,400) to leave the world’s largest iPhone assembly factory in a bid to quell protests that saw hundreds clash with security forces at the complex in central China.
The Apple supplier made the offer on Wednesday after dramatic scenes of violent protests at its campus in Zhengzhou, the capital of Henan province, in a text message sent by its human resources department to workers.
In the message, seen by CNN, the company urged workers to “please return to your dormitories” on campus. He also promised to pay them 8,000 yuan if they agreed to leave Foxconn, and another 2,000 yuan after they boarded buses to leave the sprawling site entirely.
The protest erupted on Tuesday night over the terms of the new recruits’ pay packages and the Covid-related ones concerns about their living conditions. The scenes turned increasingly violent on Wednesday as workers clashed in large numbers of security forces, including SWAT officers.
Videos circulating on social media showed groups of law enforcement officers wearing protective suits kicking and hitting protesters with batons and metal rods. Some workers were seen tearing down fences, throwing bottles and barriers at officers and smashing and overturning police cars.
The protest largely died down around 10 p.m. Wednesday as workers returned to their dormitories after receiving the payment offer from Foxconn and fearing a harsher crackdown 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 has launched a massive recruitment campaign in which more than 100,000 people have signed up to fill advertised positions, Chinese state media reported.
According to a document setting out the new hires’ pay package seen by CNN, workers were promised a bonus of 3,000 yuan after 30 days on the job, with another 3,000 yuan to be paid after a total of 60 days.
However, according to a worker, after arriving at the factory, the new employees were told by Foxconn that they would only receive the first bonus on March 15 and the second installment in May – meaning they would have to work through the Lunar New Year holiday, which begins in January 2023 to receive the first of the bonus payments.
“The new employees had to work more days to get the bonus they were promised, so they felt cheated,” the worker told CNN.
In a statement on Thursday, Foxconn said it fully understood the new hires’ concerns about “possible changes to the subsidy policy”, which it blamed on “a technical error (that) occurred during the onboarding process”.
“We apologize for an input error in the computer system and ensure that the actual pay is the same as agreed,” it said.
Foxconn communicated with employees and assured them that wages and bonuses would be paid “in accordance with company policies,” the release said.
Apple, for which Foxconn makes a range of products, told CNN Business that its employees were 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.
On Thursday morning, some workers who had agreed to walk out had received the first part of their payment, a worker said in a live broadcast that showed workers queuing outside to get Covid tests while waiting for departing buses. Later in the day, live broadcasts showed long lines of workers boarding buses.
But for some, the problems are far from over. After being taken to Zhengzhou railway station, many were unable to get a ticket home, another worker said in a live broadcast on Thursday afternoon. Like him, thousands of workers were stranded at the station, he said as he turned his camera to show the large crowds.
Zhengzhou is set to impose a five-day lockdown in its urban districts, which include the railway station, starting at midnight on Friday, authorities announced earlier.
The protest began outside worker dormitories on Foxconn’s sprawling campus on Tuesday night, with hundreds marching and chanting slogans including “Down with Foxconn,” according to social media videos and a witness account. Videos show workers clashing with security guards and retaliating with tear gas fired by police.
The standoff continued until Wednesday morning. The situation quickly escalated as a large number of security forces, most clad in white protective suits and some holding shields and batons, were deployed at the scene. The videos show convoys of police cars, some with “SWAT” emblazoned on them, arriving at the campus, which is normally home to about 200,000 workers.
More workers joined the protest after seeing live streams on video platforms Kuaishou and Douyin, China’s version of TikTok, the worker told CNN. Many live broadcasts were cut or censored. Online searches for “Foxconn” in Chinese are limited.
Some protesters marched towards the main gate of the manufacturing complex, which is in a separate area from the workers’ dormitories, in an attempt to block the assembly work, the worker said.
Other protesters took the further step of storming the manufacturing complex. They smashed Covid testing booths, glass doors and billboards at restaurants in the production area, according to the worker.
After working at the Zhengzhou plant for six years, he said he is now deeply disillusioned with Foxconn and plans to leave. With a basic monthly salary of 2,300 yuan, he earns between 4,000 yuan and 5,000 yuan a month, including overtime pay, working 10 hours a day, seven days a week during the pandemic.
“Foxconn is a Taiwanese company,” he said. “Not only did he not spread Taiwan’s values of democracy and freedom to the mainland, but he was assimilated by the Chinese Communist Party and became so cruel and inhumane. I feel very sad about it.”
Although he was not one of the recruits, he rallied with them in support, adding: “If today I am silent about the suffering of others, who will speak for me tomorrow?”