Foxconn has offered to pay newly hired workers 10,000 yuan ($1,400) to quit and 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 Wednesday after dramatic scenes of violent protests at its campus in Zhengzhou, the capital of Henan province, in a text message sent to employees by its human resources department.
In the message, seen by CNN, the company urged employees to “return to your dormitories” on campus. It also 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 grounds altogether.
The protest broke out on Tuesday evening over the terms of the new hires and Covid related payment packages worried about their living conditions. Scenes grew increasingly violent on Wednesday as workers clashed in large numbers of security forces, including SWAT team officers.
Videos circulating on social media showed groups of law enforcement officers dressed in safety suits kicking and beating protesters with batons and metal bars. Workers were seen tearing down fences, throwing bottles and barriers at officers, and vandalizing and overturning police vehicles.
The protest largely stopped around 10 p.m. Wednesday as workers returned to their dormitories after receiving Foxconn’s offer of payment and fearing a crackdown by authorities, a witness told CNN.
The Zhengzhou factory was hit by a COVID-19 outbreak in October, forcing it to lock down and leading to a mass exodus of workers fleeing the outbreak. Foxcon later launched a massive recruitment campaign, with more than 100,000 people applying to fill the advertised vacancies, Chinese state media reported.
According to a new hire salary package document seen by CNN, workers were promised a 3,000 yuan bonus after 30 days on the job, with an additional 3,000 yuan to be paid after a total of 60 days.
However, according to one worker, after arriving at Foxconn’s factory, the new recruits were told they would not receive the first bonus until March 15 and the second in May — meaning they would have to work through the Lunar New Year holiday. which starts in January 2023, to receive the first of the bonus payments.
“The new recruits had to work more days to get the promised bonus, so they felt cheated,” the employee told CNN.
In a statement Thursday, Foxconn said it fully understood the new recruits’ concerns about “possible changes in grant policy,” which it blamed on “a technical error[that]occurred during the onboarding process.”
“We apologize for an input error in the computer system and guarantee that the actual wage is the same as agreed,” the company said.
Foxconn communicated with employees assuring them that salaries and bonuses would be paid “in accordance with company policy,” it said.
Apple, for which Foxconn manufactures a range of products, told CNN Business its employees were on the ground at the Zhengzhou plant.
“We are reviewing the situation and are working closely with Foxconn to ensure their employees’ concerns are addressed,” the company said in a statement.
By Thursday morning, some workers who had agreed to leave had received the first installment of payment, a worker said in a live stream showing workers queuing outside to do Covid tests while waiting for buses to depart. Later in the day, live streams showed long queues of workers boarding buses.
But for some, the misery is far from over. After driving to Zhengzhou train station, many could not get a ticket home, another employee said in a live stream Thursday afternoon. Like him, thousands of workers were trapped at the station, he said, panning his camera to show the large crowd.
Zhengzhou will impose a five-day lockdown in its city neighborhoods, including the train station, from midnight on Friday, authorities had previously announced.
The protest began Tuesday night outside workers’ dormitories on the sprawling Foxconn campus, with hundreds marching and chanting slogans, including “Down with Foxconn,” according to videos posted on social media and a witness account. Videos show workers clashing with security guards and fighting tear gas fired by police.
The deadlock lasted until Wednesday morning. The situation quickly escalated as a large number of security forces, most dressed in white hazmat suits and some with shields and batons, were deployed to the scene. Videos showed columns of police vehicles, some marked “SWAT”, arriving on campus, normally home to some 200,000 workers.
More workers joined the protest after watching live streams on video platforms Kuaishou and Douyin, the Chinese version of TikTok, the worker told CNN. Many live streams were cut or censored. Online searches for “Foxconn” in Chinese are limited.
Some protesters marched to the main entrance of the production facility, which is in a separate area from the workers’ dormitories, in an attempt to block assembly operations, the worker said.
Other protesters took the next step by breaking into the production area. They destroyed covid testing booths, glass doors and billboards at restaurants in the production area, the worker said.
After working at the Zhengzhou factory for six years, he said he was now deeply disappointed by Foxconn and intended to quit. With a basic monthly salary of 2,300 yuan, he earned between 4,000 and 5,000 yuan a month, including overtime, and worked 10 hours a day, seven days a week during the pandemic.
“Foxconn is a Taiwanese company,” he said. “Not only did it not spread the Taiwanese values of democracy and freedom to the mainland, it was assimilated by the Chinese Communist Party and became so cruel and inhumane. I feel very sad about it.”
Although he was not one of the new recruits, he protested with them in support, adding, “Today if I keep silent about the suffering of others, who will speak for me tomorrow?”