Foxconn has offered to pay newly hired workers 10,000 yuan ($1,400) in an effort to quell protests that have seen them leave the world’s largest iPhone assembly factory and clash with hundreds of security forces at the compound in central China.
The Apple supplier made the offer in a text message sent to workers by its human resources department on Wednesday after dramatic scenes of violent protests at the campus in Zhengzhou, the capital of Henan province.
In a message seen by CNN, the company urged workers to “please return to your dormitories” on campus. They 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.
Protests broke out on Tuesday night over new tenant payment packages and Covid-related regulations. Concerned about their living conditions. Scenes turned more violent on Wednesday when a large number of workers clashed Security forces including SWAT team officers.
Videos circulating on social media showed groups of law enforcement officers wearing hazmat 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 vehicles.
A witness told CNN that the protest largely ended around 10pm on Wednesday when workers accepted Foxconn’s payment offer and returned to their dormitories fearing a harsh crackdown by authorities.
The Zhengzhou plant was hit by a Covid outbreak in October, which forced a lockdown and led to a mass exodus of workers fleeing the outbreak. Then Foxconn It launched a massive recruitment drive in which more than 100,000 people signed up to fill advertised positions, Chinese state media reported.
Workers were promised a 3,000 yuan bonus after 30 days, with another 3,000 yuan to be paid after 60 days, according to a document setting out the new hires’ pay package seen by CNN.
However, according to the worker, upon arrival at the plant, Foxconn told the new recruits 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 hires had to work longer hours 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 recruits’ concerns about “possible changes in the subsidy policy” which it blamed on a “technical error (that) occurred during the onboarding process”.
“We apologize for the input error in the computer system and guarantee that the actual pay is the same as agreed,” it said.
Foxconn has been communicating with employees and assured them that salaries and bonuses will be paid “in accordance with company policies.”
Apple, which makes a range of Foxconn products, told CNN Business that its employees are on the ground 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 of the workers who had agreed to leave had received the first installment of their payments, a worker said in a livestream, which showed workers lining up outside. to take covid tests while they wait for departing buses. Later in the day, livestreams showed long lines of workers boarding buses.
But for some, the problem is gone. After driving to Zhengzhou train station, many were unable to get tickets home, another worker said on a livestream Thursday afternoon. Like him, thousands of workers were stuck at the station, he said, turning his camera to show the large crowd.
Authorities had earlier announced that Zhengzhou was poised to impose a five-day lockdown in its urban districts, which include the railway station, starting at midnight on Friday.
Protests began Tuesday night outside worker dormitories on the sprawling Foxconn campus, with hundreds of people chanting slogans including “Down with Foxconn,” according to social media videos and witness accounts. Videos showed workers clashing with security personnel and protesting police firing of tear gas.
The clash continued till Wednesday morning. The situation quickly escalated as a large number of security forces, a large number of white hazmat suits and some holding shields and batons were deployed to the scene. Videos showed columns of police vehicles, some marked “SWAT,” arriving at the campus, usually home to about 200,000 workers.
Workers told CNN that more workers joined the protest after seeing livestreams on the Chinese version of TikTok, Kuizhou and Douyin video platforms. Many livestreams have been cut or censored. Online searches for “Foxconn” in Chinese are restricted.
Some protesters marched to the main gate of the manufacturing facility’s compound, which is located in a separate area from the workers’ dormitory, in an attempt to stop the assembly work, workers said.
Other protesters took the next step of storming the manufacturing compound. According to the worker, they smashed Covid testing booths, glass doors and billboards in restaurants in the manufacturing area.
Having worked at the Zhengzhou plant for six years, he said he is now deeply disillusioned with Foxconn and plans to quit. With a basic monthly salary of 2,300 yuan, they are earning between 4,000 yuan and 5,000 yuan a month, including overtime pay, 10 hours a day during the pandemic and seven days a week.
“Foxconn is a Taiwanese company,” he said. “Not only did it not spread Taiwan’s values of democracy and freedom to the mainland, it was incorporated by the Chinese Communist Party and became very cruel and inhumane. I am very sad about that.”
Although he was not one of the new recruits, he protested with them in support: “If today I am silent about the suffering of others, who will speak for me tomorrow?”