Foxconn has offered to pay newly recruited workers 10,000 yuan ($1,400) to quit and leave the world’s largest iPhone assembly plant, in a bid to quell protests that saw hundreds of clashes with security forces at the plant 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 workers.
In the message, seen by CNN, the company urged workers to “return to your dormitories” on campus. It also promised to pay them 8,000 yuan if they agreed to quit Foxconn, and another 2,000 yuan after they board buses to leave the sprawling area entirely.
The protest broke out on Tuesday evening over the conditions for the new employees’ payment packages and Covid-related ones concern for their living conditions. The scenes became 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 police officers 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 officers and smashing and overturning police cars.
The protest largely subsided around 10 p.m. on Wednesday as workers returned to their dormitories, having received Foxconn’s payment offer and fearing a tougher attack from authorities, a witness told CNN.
The Zhengzhou plant was hit by a Covid outbreak in October, forcing it to lock down and prompting a mass exodus of workers fleeing the outbreak. Foxconn later launched a massive recruitment campaign, with more than 100,000 people applying to fill the advertised positions, Chinese state media reported.
According to a document detailing the pay package for new hires seen by CNN, workers were promised a bonus of 3,000 yuan 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 the plant, the new recruits were told by Foxconn that they would only receive the first bonus on March 15, and the second part in May – meaning they would have to work through the Lunar New Year holiday , starting in January 2023, to receive the first of the bonus payouts.
“The new recruits had to work several days 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 to the subsidy policy,” which it blamed on “a technical error (that) occurred during the implementation process.
“We apologize for an entry 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 manufactures a range of products, told CNN Business that employees were on the ground at the Zhengzhou plant.
“We are assessing the situation and working closely with Foxconn to ensure that their employees’ concerns are addressed,” it said in a statement.
By Thursday morning, some workers who had agreed to leave had received the first part of their payment, a worker said in a live broadcast, which showed workers lining up outside to take Covid tests while waiting for buses to leave. Later in the day, live streams showed long lines of workers boarding buses.
But for some, the troubles are far from over. After being driven to Zhengzhou railway station, many could not get a ticket home, another worker said in a live broadcast on Thursday afternoon. Like him, thousands of workers were stuck at the station, he said, turning the camera to show the large crowds.
Zhengzhou is set to impose a five-day lockdown in its urban districts, which includes the railway station, from midnight on Friday, authorities had announced earlier.
The protest began outside workers’ dormitories on the sprawling Foxconn campus Tuesday night, with hundreds marching and chanting slogans including “Down with Foxconn,” according to videos on social media and a witness account. Videos showed workers clashing with security guards and fighting tear gas fired by police.
The stand-off lasted until Wednesday morning. The situation quickly escalated as a large number of security forces, most covered in 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.
Several 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 broadcasts were cut or censored. Online searches for “Foxconn” in Chinese have been restricted.
Some protesters marched to the main gate of the manufacturing plant, which is in a separate area from the workers’ dormitories, in an attempt to block the assembly work, the worker said.
Other protesters took the further step of breaking into the manufacturing facility. They smashed Covid test booths, glass doors and billboards at restaurants in the production area, according to the worker.
After working at the Zhengzhou factory for six years, he said he was now deeply disappointed with Foxconn and planned to quit. With a standard monthly salary of 2,300 yuan, he has earned between 4,000 yuan and 5,000 yuan per month, including overtime pay, working 10 hours a day, seven days a week during the pandemic.
“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 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: “If today I remain silent about the suffering of others, who will speak for me tomorrow?”