Foxconn has offered to pay newly hired workers 10,000 yuan ($1,400) to leave the world’s largest iPhone assembly plant in a bid to quell protests that have seen hundreds clash with security forces at the compound in central China.
The Apple supplier made the offer on Wednesday after dramatic scenes of violent protests at its campus in Zhengzhou, capital of Henan province, in a text message sent from its human resources department to employees.
In a message seen by CNN, the company urged workers to “return to their dorms” on campus. She also promised to pay them 8,000 yuan if they agreed to leave Foxconn, and another 2,000 yuan after they board buses to leave the sprawling campus entirely.
The protest broke out on Tuesday night over the terms of the new hires’ pay packages and related to Covid concerns about their living conditions. Scenes turned increasingly violent on Wednesday as workers clashed in large numbers security forces, including SWAT unit officers.
Videos circulating on social media showed groups of police dressed in hazmat suits kicking and beating protesters with batons and metal rods. Some workers were seen tearing down fences, throwing bottles and barriers at police and smashing and overturning police vehicles.
The protest largely ended around 10 p.m. Wednesday as workers returned to their dormitories after receiving Foxconn’s offer to pay and fearing a tougher crackdown from authorities, a witness told CNN.
The Zhengzhou power plant was hit by a Covid outbreak in October, forcing it into lockdown and leading to a mass exodus of workers fleeing the outbreak. Foxconn later launched a massive recruitment drive in which more than 100,000 people applied 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, and another 3,000 yuan was paid after a total of 60 days.
However, according to one worker, upon arriving at the Foxconn plant, new recruits were told they would only receive the first bonus on March 15 and the second installment in May – meaning they must work through the Lunar New Year holiday, which begins in January 2023, to receive the first of the bonuses payments.
“The new recruits had to work more days to get the bonus they were promised, so they felt cheated,” the employee told CNN.
In a statement on Thursday, Foxconn said it fully understands 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 salary 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 policy,” it said.
Apple, for which Foxconn makes a number of products, told CNN Business that its employees were on site at the Zhengzhou plant.
“We are reviewing the situation and working closely with Foxconn to ensure that their employee concerns are resolved,” the statement said.
On Thursday morning, some of the workers who agreed to walk out had received the first part of their payment, the worker said in a live broadcast that showed workers standing outside. to get tested for Covid while waiting for departing buses. Later in the day, live feeds showed long lines of workers boarding buses.
But for some, the trouble is far from over. After being transferred to Zhengzhou train station, many were unable to get a ticket home, another worker said on a live broadcast Thursday afternoon. Like him, thousands of workers were stuck at the station, he said, as he turned his camera to show large crowds.
Zhengzhou is set to impose a five-day lockdown in its parts of the city, including the train station, starting at midnight on Friday, authorities said earlier.
The protest began outside workers’ 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 witness accounts. Videos showed workers clashing with security and fighting tear gas fired by police.
The standoff lasted until Wednesday morning. The situation quickly escalated as a large number of security forces were deployed to the site, most clad in white protective suits and some holding shields and batons. Video footage showed convoys of police vehicles, some marked “SWAT,” arriving at the campus, which is normally home to about 200,000 workers.
Other workers joined the protest after seeing live streams on video platforms Kuaishou and Douyin, China’s version of TikTok, an employee told CNN. Many live streams were interrupted or censored. Online searches for “Foxconn” in Chinese have been limited.
Some protesters marched to the main gate of the factory premises, which is located in a separate area from the workers’ dormitories, in an attempt to block the assembly work, the worker said.
Other protesters took the next step and broke into the manufacturing site. According to the worker, they broke the Covid testing booths, glass doors and advertising boards in the restaurants in the production area.
After working at the Zhengzhou plant for six years, he said he is now deeply disappointed with Foxconn and plans to quit. With a basic monthly salary of 2,300 yuan, he earned 4,000 to 5,000 yuan a month during the pandemic, including overtime pay, working 10 hours a day, seven days a week.
“Foxconn is a Taiwanese company,” he said. “Not only did he not extend the Taiwanese values of democracy and freedom to the mainland, but he was assimilated by the Chinese Communist Party and thus became cruel and inhumane. I’m very sad about that.”
Although he was not among the new recruits, he rallied with them in support, adding: “If I remain silent today about the suffering of others, who will speak for me tomorrow?