HONG KONG — Violent clashes erupted between workers and hazmat-suited police officers at China’s so-called “iPhone city,” where about half of Apple’s smartphones are assembled.
Accounts on Chinese social media point to a combination of strict “zero-COVID” measures, a brewing labor dispute and the pressure for factory workers to deliver ahead of a busy holiday season that caused frustration among employees at the manufacturing plant in the central Chinese city of Zhengzhou.
Videos that appear to show hundreds of angry workers throwing sticks and bricks at security forces and then officers subduing and beating protestors popped up on Chinese social media Tuesday night into Wednesday as quickly as Chinese government censors raced to delete them.
The enormous factory complex is operated by Foxconn, the Taiwanese company that is the world’s largest technology manufacturer.
COVID-19 infections across China are nearing record levels this week, testing Chinese leader Xi Jinping’s signature “zero-COVID” strategy — a program that seeks to track and eliminate every new COVID case — as well as the slowing Chinese economy.
In late October, tens of thousands of Foxconn workers walked off the job at the same factory fearing a COVID lockdown after widespread claims that the city of Zhengzhou had mismanaged a COVID-19 outbreak. This led to Apple issuing a statement earlier this month that shipments of its latest lineup of iPhones will be “temporarily impacted” by COVID restrictions in China.
In an effort to keep remaining workers to stay on, the local government and Foxconn offered generous incentives and started an aggressive recruitment drive for new workers willing to move to the Zhengzhou campus.
Recruitment ads circulating on Weibo, China’s version of Twitter, touted a 6,000 to 10,000 Yuan (roughly $840 to $1400) signing bonus. Those ads began being censored late in the day Wednesday.
Last week, an executive at the Foxconn campus told the Chinese business outlet Yicai that they had successfully recruited more than 100,000 new workers who began arriving from around China last weekend.
Video on TikTok-like app Kuaishou said the workers who arrived over the weekend having to first quarantine at an isolation facility for four days.
When the new crop of workers emerged out of quarantine, many started to accuse Foxconn on social media of changing the terms of their contract and withholding the incentive bonus until they work through May of next year.
Foxconn in a statement to ABC News acknowledged the “violence” at the plant and said “on the evening of November 22, some new hires to the Zhengzhou Park campus appealed to the company regarding the work allowance, which they had doubts about.”
The statement added, “[Foxconn] has emphasized that the allowance has always been fulfilled based on contractual obligation.”
Foxconn also highlighted “speculation” among the new recruits that they would be sharing dorms with COVID positive employees, calling it “untrue.”
The new employees will only be allowed in once a government inspection clears the facility, the company said.
Foxconn said that they “will continue to communicate with employees and the government to prevent similar incidents from happening again.”