China zero-Covid: Zhengzhou iPhone factory workers clash with police, videos show

Beijing/Hong Kong
CNN Business

Workers at China’s largest iPhone assembly factory clashed with police on Wednesday, with some rioting, according to videos shared on social media.

Videos show hundreds of workers, many wearing white hazmat suits, confronting law enforcement officers at the Foxconn campus in the central Chinese city of Zhengzhou. In the footage, which has now been blocked, some protesters were heard complaining about their wages and sanitary conditions.

The scenes come just days after Chinese state media reported that more than 100,000 people had registered to fill positions advertised as part of a massive recruitment drive for Foxconn’s Zhengzhou plant.

Apple ( AAPL ) faces significant supply chain constraints at its assembly facility and expects iPhone 14 shipments to take a hit as the key holiday shopping season begins. CNN has reached out to the company for comment on the situation at the plant.

Last month, a Covid outbreak forced the site to close and caused some worried factory workers to flee.

Videos of many people leaving Zhengzhou on foot circulated on Chinese social media in early November, prompting Foxconn to step up measures to bring back workers. To try to limit the impact, the company said this month it quadrupled daily bonuses for workers at the plant.

In a video on Wednesday, workers were heard saying that Foxconn had not followed through on promises of an attractive bonus and pay package upon joining the plant. A large number of complaints have also been posted anonymously on social media platforms – accusing Foxconn of altering previously announced salary packages.

“The benefit has always been fulfilled based on the contractual obligation,” Foxconn said in a statement in English on Tuesday after some new recruits at the Foxconn campus in Zhengzhou City approached the company about the job allowance.

Workers were also heard in the videos complaining that anti-Covid measures were insufficient, saying workers who tested positive were not separated from the rest of the workforce.

In an English statement, Foxconn said online speculation about Covid-positive workers living in dormitories at the Foxconn campus in Zhengzhou was “patently untrue”.

“Before new recruits start work, the dormitory environment goes through standard disinfection procedures, and new employees are only allowed to move in after the building passes a government inspection,” Foxconn said.

Searches for the term “Foxconn” on Chinese social media now return very few results, an indication of heavy censorship.

“Regarding the violent behavior, the company will continue to communicate with workers and the government to prevent similar incidents from happening again,” Foxconn said in a statement in Chinese.

The Zhengzhou facility is the world’s largest iPhone assembly site. That typically accounts for about 50% to 60% of Foxconn’s global iPhone assembly capacity, according to Mirko Woitzik, global director of intelligence solutions at supply chain risk analytics provider Everstream.

Apple warned of supply chain disruptions earlier this month, saying customers would feel the impact.

“We now expect lower shipments of the iPhone 14 Pro and iPhone 14 Pro Max than we previously expected,” the tech giant said in a statement. “Customers will experience longer wait times to receive their new products.”

Last week, the waiting period for these models in the US reached 34 days, according to a UBS report.

Public frustration is growing under China’s draconian zero-Covid policy, which has included strict lockdowns and travel restrictions nearly three years into the pandemic.

That sentiment was on display last week as social media footage showed besieged residents in Guangzhou breaking down barriers to confine them to their homes and take to the streets, defying strictly enforced local orders.

– Michelle Toh, Simone McCarthy, Wayne Chang, Juliana Liu and Kathleen Magramo contributed to this report.

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