The staff departure stems from concerns about Apple’s ability to deliver products for the busy holiday season.
More than 20,000 workers at Apple supplier Foxconn’s massive Chinese plant, mostly new hires not yet working on the production lines, have left, a Foxconn source familiar with the matter told Reuters news agency Friday.
The departure from the world’s largest iPhone factory is another blow to the Taiwanese company that has struggled with strict COVID-19 restrictions that have led to workers’ discontent and disrupted production in the run-up to Christmas and the New Year holidays in January.
Concerns are mounting over Apple’s ability to deliver products for the busy holiday season as worker unrest continues at the Zhengzhou factory that produces the US company’s popular iPhone 14 models.
The departure will complicate Foxconn’s goal of resuming full production by the end of November after the sometimes violent unrest, the source said.
Foxconn, formally known as Hon Hai Precision Industry Co, declined to comment. Apple, which said on Thursday it had workers at the plant, declined to comment on Friday.
In a rare case of open dissent in China, employees have complained about sharing dormitories with colleagues who tested positive for COVID. They claim they were misled about factory compensation benefits that account for 70 percent of global iPhone shipments.
Foxconn on Thursday offered 10,000 yuan ($1,400) to protesting recruits who agreed to resign and leave the factory.
The company apologized for a pay-related “technical error” in hiring, which employees said was a factor leading to protests with clashes with security personnel.
Videos posted to Chinese social media on Friday showed crowds and long lines of luggage-laden workers queuing for buses. “It’s time to go home,” one person wrote.
Another Foxconn source familiar with the matter said some new hires had left the campus, but did not elaborate on how many. This person said the departure had no effect on current production, as the new staff still had to undergo training before being able to work online.
“The incident has a major impact on our public image, but little on our (current) capacity. Our current capacity will not be affected,” said the source.
“There’s only so much businesses can do about pandemic prevention… It’s been a problem for a while. This is an issue that affects everyone,” the person said, pointing to other employee unrest caused by rigid COVID restrictions, including unrest at another Apple supplier, Quanta, in May.
The unrest at the Foxconn factory comes as China records a record number of COVID infections and struggles with increasing lockdowns that have fueled frustration among citizens across the country. It has also revealed communication problems and mistrust of Foxconn management among some employees.
Foxconn launched a hiring campaign this month, promising bonuses and higher salaries after it was forced to implement COVID curbs in October. The restrictions forced the company to isolate many employees, prompting several to flee.