Protesting workers beaten at Chinese iPhone factory

BEIJING (AP) – Police beat workers protesting conditions at the world’s largest factory for Apple’s iPhone, the latest model of which is delayed as anti-COVID measures hamper Chinese production of high-tech a affordable prices to the world.

Foxconn, a contract assembler that makes the global smartphone industry possible, didn’t have enough workers to make the new iPhone 14. In China, workers are housed in “closed circuits” of dormitories isolated from the general population, making it more difficult to recruiting workers.

China has bet the future of the world’s largest economy on contract manufacturing like that of Foxconn. It is also betting on its ability to control COVID with some of the strictest virus checks in the world.

These two bets came into violent conflict on Tuesday night in the central city of Zhengzhou.

To lure workers to the iPhone 14, which retails for as low as $799 in the US, Foxconn has announced enticements for Zhengzhou workers to return and hire new ones. Li Sanshan, 28, said she quit a catering job when she saw an ad promising 25,000 yuan ($3,500) for two months of work.

Foxconn isn’t releasing salary figures, but that package would represent about a 50% increase over the high end of the salary range for large employers in the area.

The workers walked long distances to the factory, only to be told they had to work another two months on less pay to receive the 25,000 yuan, Li said.

“Foxconn has released very tempting recruiting offers and workers have come from all over the country, only to find they are being duped,” he said.

Videos that the people who took them shot at the factory in the central city of Zhengzhou showed thousands of people in masks facing lines of policemen in white protective suits with plastic riot shields. Police kicked and hit a protester with sticks after he grabbed a metal pole that was used to hit him.

The protest lasted until Wednesday morning when thousands of workers gathered outside dormitories and confronted factory security workers, according to Li. Apple did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Other videos showed protesters spraying fire extinguishers at police.

A man who identified himself as the Communist Party secretary in charge of community services was shown in a video posted on social media platform Sina Weibo urging protesters to withdraw. He assured them that their requests would be met.

Frustration with restrictions in areas across China that have closed shops and offices and confined millions to their homes has escalated into protests. Videos on social media show residents tearing down barricades set up to enforce neighborhood closures.

The ruling Communist Party vowed this month to try to reduce disruptions by shortening quarantines and making other changes. But the party is sticking to a “zero-COVID” strategy that aims to isolate each case as other governments ease controls and try to live with the virus.

Last month, thousands of employees walked out of the iPhone factory operated by Taiwan’s Foxconn Technology Group over complaints of unsafe working conditions following virus cases.

Foxconn, based in New Taipei City, Taiwan, denied what it claimed were online comments that employees with the virus were living in dormitories at the Zhengzhou factory. He said the facilities had been sanitized and passed government inspections before employees moved out.

“As regards any violence, the company will continue to communicate with employees and the government to prevent similar incidents from happening again,” the company statement said.

Protests have flared up with the number and severity of outbreaks it has increased across China, prompting authorities in areas including Beijing, the capital, to close neighborhoods and impose other restrictions that residents say go beyond what the national government allows.

More than 253,000 cases have been reported in the past three weeks and the daily average is rising, the government said on Tuesday. This week, authorities reported the first COVID-19 deaths in China in six months.

On Wednesday, the government reported 28,883 cases found in the past 24 hours, including 26,242 without symptoms. Henan Province and Zhengzhou, the provincial capital, reported 851.

The government will enforce its anti-COVID policy while “resolutely overcoming the mentality of paralysis and laxity,” said a spokesman for the National Health Commission, Mi Feng.

The Guangzhou city government, the site of the biggest outbreaks, announced it has opened 19 temporary hospitals with a total of nearly 70,000 beds for coronavirus patients. The city last week announced plans to build hospitals and quarantine facilities for 250,000 people.

Also on Wednesday, Beijing opened a hospital at an exhibition center and suspended access to Beijing International Studies University was suspended after a case of the virus was found there. The capital has previously closed shopping malls and office buildings and suspended access to some apartment complexes.

Apple Inc. has warned that deliveries of its new iPhone 14 model will be delayed due to factory health checks. The city government has suspended access to an industrial zone surrounding the factory, which Foxconn says employs 200,000 people.

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Zen Soo reported from Hong Kong. AP news aide Caroline Chen contributed.

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