Taiwan-based Foxconn spent the past month offering bonuses to employees willing to work at its massive factory in Zhengzhou, China, during a hellish coronavirus lockdown, but on Friday it offered $1400 bonuses to new recruits if they would agree to quit and go home.
Angry workers began holding violent demonstrations outside the factory on Wednesday, accusing the company of providing poor living conditions and breaking its wage and bonus commitments.
The South China Morning Post (SCMP) on Friday quoted a staff notice from Foxconn that offered 8,000 yuan (about $1,100) to newly-hired employees at the Zhengzhou facility if they would resign immediately, plus another 2,000 yuan ($300) if they actually climbed on a bus and went home.
The notice, published on a Chinese platform called Cailanshe, described these payments as covering “lost salary, quarantine allowances, and miscellaneous items.”
“Some employees are still concerned about the coronavirus and hope to quit and return home, and the company deeply understands the concerns,” the notice said.
A video verified as authentic by Foxconn sources showed a group of protesting workers being told about the payout offer and instructed where to assemble to collect their money.
Foxconn workers began fleeing the locked-down factory at the beginning of November. Many of the departing migrant workers complained about poor living conditions inside the facility and said they were afraid of catching Chinese coronavirus because uninfected people were assigned dormitory space alongside workers who tested positive. Foxconn representatives constantly deny the latter allegation, but unhappy workers keep making it.
Violent clashes broke out between workers and security forces at Foxconn Zhengzhou, the world’s largest iPhone factory on November 22, 2022. pic.twitter.com/4FK3dRLV80
— South China Morning Post (@SCMPNews) November 24, 2022
Faced with a dire shortage of labor at the immense Zhengzhou facility, Foxconn offered retention bonuses and salary increases for workers who remained, plus a “care and love pre-hiring bonus” for refugee employees willing to return. Ironically, these bonuses were far smaller than the payments Foxconn is now offering angry new recruits to go home. The re-hiring bonus for those who fled and returned was only 500 yuan, or about $70, for example.
This video circulating of the fresh clashes at #Foxconn would appear to show armed officials (presumably police) kicking protesting worker(s) after they go to ground. The #ZeroCovid crisis hitting the world’s largest supplier of #Apple iPhones continues. #China pic.twitter.com/4LnS1Z9mtn
— Stephen McDonell (@StephenMcDonell) November 23, 2022
Both company representatives and Chinese Communist Party officials insisted over the past two weeks that re-hiring was going smoothly and thousands of eager applicants were lining up for jobs, but they kept taking actions that belied these public statements.
Last week, local officials at the veterans’ affairs bureau published an open letter asking for retired People’s Liberation Army (PLA) veterans to “answer the government’s call” and report for work at the Foxconn plant. The letter was deleted without explanation after it drew public attention, and it was unclear how many military veterans responded to the call.
On Wednesday, hundreds of workers spilled out of the Foxconn plant and began tearing down barricades, trashing coronavirus testing stations, and brawling with hazmat-suited police. The protesters chanted “We want to go home!” and complained conditions within the facility were much worse than they were led to believe. They also claimed Foxconn reneged on its promises to pay them recruiting bonuses.
Police responded to the Foxconn protests with considerable brutality, creating another public-relations headache for the company. Foxconn representatives said the demonstrators were mostly “new hires” and insisted the company was honoring its compensation promises. Chinese Communist Party censors went into overdrive deleting videos and live streams of the demonstrations.
The city of Zhengzhou announced on Wednesday it will impose a five-day citywide lockdown to control rising coronavirus cases. Many of the city’s residents will be imprisoned inside their homes, as is typical of China’s draconian “zero Covid” lockdowns.
Tighter coronavirus curbs spread across China on Friday, to the dismay and frustration of residents who thought the government was preparing to loosen its policies somewhat, without ever admitting they were in error. Chinese health officials published a list of 20 coronavirus “optimization” measures two weeks ago that the public interpreted as a signal of less heavy-handed lockdowns in the future, but instead the new protocols are causing confusion and panic as local and national officials panic and revert to the older, stricter protocols.
A Foxconn source told Reuters on Friday that the chaos at the Zhengzhou plant, the only facility in the world that assembles top-of-the-line iPhone models, could reduce productivity by over 30 percent for November. The source said production is unlikely to return to normal by the end of December. Retailers such as Best Buy said they anticipated shortages of iPhones during the holiday season.