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Apple’s iPhone workers in China clash with police over pay, living conditions

Hundreds of employees at Foxconn’s flagship iPhone plant in China have rioted, smashing equipment and clashing with hazmat-clad police over pay and living conditions. Unrest erupted at the Zhengzhou plant after workers marched out of their dormitories in a rare display of open dissent. Staff can be heard chanting “crackdown Foxconn,” “we want to go home,” and “give us our pay!” in videos shared on Chinese social media.

In one video, a man has a bloodied face, and someone off-screen says, “They’re hitting people, hitting people.” “Do they have a soul?”

According to many demonstrators on Livestream feeds, the catalyst for the protests appeared to be a plan to deny bonus payments promised to new workers, as well as poor living conditions at the plant.

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The Zhengzhou plant, which employs about 200,000 people, recently experienced an increase in Covid cases, prompting it to close the complex and operate in a “closed loop” bubble to prevent the virus from spreading.

Closed-loop operations require employees to live and work on-site, away from the outside world. Hundreds of employees attempted to flee the lockdown on foot, many scaling fences and walking for miles to return home. Foxconn recruited new employees with the promise of large bonuses in order to keep the plant running.

Workers complained in videos circulated on Chinese social media about not knowing if they would get meals while in quarantine. “Foxconn never treats people like humans,” said one. Some employees complained that they were forced to share dorms with coworkers who tested positive for coronavirus. According to AFP, others claimed their bonuses were reduced from 3,000 yuan to 30 yuan.

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“It’s now clear that closed-loop production in Foxconn only helps to prevent Covid from spreading to the city, but does nothing for the factory workers,” said Aiden Chau of the Hong Kong-based advocacy group China Labour Bulletin. Foxconn stated that it had fulfilled its payment contracts and that reports that employees were asked to share dormitories with those suffering from Covid-19 were “false.” “In terms of violent behavior, the company will continue to communicate with employees and the government to prevent similar incidents from occurring again,” it added.

The unrest, according to Li Qiang, founder of China Labour Watch, is “the result of Apple’s need for production without regard for workers’ demands.”  Foxconn, based in Taiwan but with factories in mainland China and India, is Apple’s largest iPhone manufacturer, accounting for 70% of global iPhone shipments.

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