When officials from his Chinese village approached Hou last month urging him to work at the world’s largest iPhone factory for at least double the usual wage, he knew it was risky.

Tens of thousands of workers had fled the factory in central China in recent weeks, and violent protests had erupted over a COVID-19 lockdown and confusion over hiring bonuses.

But Hou, 24, who wished to be identified only by his family name, told the Reuters news agency that he took the job at Foxconn’s Zhengzhou plant – Apple’s largest iPhone maker, which produces 70 percent of the world’s iPhones. .

The crisis could cut production for November at the plant by at least 30 percent, a Foxconn source told Reuters on Thursday, a development that has hit Apple’s share price.

Battered by China’s strict COVID restrictions and facing critical demand for year-end holidays, Taiwan-based Foxconn’s factory offered attractive hiring bonuses and excellent pay.

Hou said he was promised up to 30,000 yuan ($4,200) for just under four months of work — well above the 12,000-16,000 yuan ($1,670-2,230) Foxconn employees usually get for four months.

But he said he hadn’t counted on a 10-day quarantine and the sudden announcement that employees would have to work an extra month before receiving their hiring bonus.

Such grievances, Hou and two other employees told Reuters, prompted them to confront Foxconn management at the plant — essentially a city of more than 200,000 workers — leading to sporadic clashes that have sparked global violence. made headlines.

In a rare example of large-scale labor unrest in China, Foxconn workers in COVID masks clashed with security personnel in white hazmat suits with plastic shields. Some protesters smashed security cameras and windows with sticks.

In addition to the challenges of keeping the factory lines operating under a closed-loop system mandated under Beijing’s zero-COVID policy — which requires workers to be isolated from the rest of the world — Foxconn’s turmoil also brought communication problems and mistrust of management among the top employees. Apple supplier.

“Nothing they said mattered,” Hou said from his hometown after accepting a 10,000 yuan ($1,400) payout that Foxconn offered on Thursday to protesting workers who agreed to leave.

Hou, who had worked in jobs like sales and says he was told no factory experience was necessary, never made it to the production line.

Five other workers at the time said they were scared because Foxconn began transferring COVID-positive people to a vacant housing project without disclosing the infections, telling workers to eat in their dormitories instead of the company canteens, but then failed to separate infected workers from others.

Foxconn declined to comment on the claims made by Hou and other employees, referring Reuters to earlier statements.

Foxconn logo on a building.
Taiwan-based Foxconn has been hit hard by China’s strict COVID restrictions [File: Ann Wang/Reuters]

The company previously apologized to employees for a payroll-related “technical error” it said occurred in its hiring process. It hasn’t said why it paid people to leave shortly after promising them hiring bonuses.

In late October, after scenes of fleeing workers began to trickle out, Foxconn said it had the situation under control and was working with other factories to increase production.

If the problems continue through December, it will cost Foxconn and Apple the production of about 10 million iPhones, equivalent to a 12 percent reduction in iPhone shipments in the fourth quarter, KGI Securities analyst Christine Wang said.

Foxconn executives said the company was in a difficult position as it had to speed up shipments during Apple’s main holiday season while following strict local government COVID guidelines.

“It was the busiest time of the year,” said a senior Foxconn official, adding that an October COVID outbreak at the Zhengzhou campus caught the company off guard and caused “a mess.”

“There was pressure for everyone, including the local government,” the official said, referring to local authorities scrambling to recruit replacement workers.

What happened at the factory was the “embodiment” of what businesses are facing under China’s rigid COVID policies, and it will “push production lines out of China faster,” the official said.

Marina Zhang, an associate professor at the Australia-China Relations Institute at the University of Technology Sydney, said Foxconn’s woes were a signal to companies trying to keep Chinese operations going and employees COVID-free in line with the national policy.

“A company’s internal communications can be completely overwhelmed, overwhelmed by social media,” Zhang said. “They’re losing power to social media — no one will listen to them.”

One employee, Fay, said he feared contracting COVID and wondered if he should stay for another two weeks to claim a bonus for completing his three-month contract. Finally, he says, he crawled out through a hole in a green metal gate.

“In the end I decided my life was worth more.”

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