Hundreds of workers at Apple Inc.’s main iPhone-making plant in China clashed with security personnel, as tensions boiled over after almost a month under tough restrictions intended to quash a Covid outbreak.
Workers at the Foxconn Technology Group plant streamed out of dormitories in the early hours of Wednesday, jostling and pushing past the white-clad guards they vastly outnumbered, according to videos sent by a witness to portions of the protest. Several white-suited people pummeled a person lying on the ground with sticks in another clip. Onlookers yelled “fight, fight!” as throngs of people forced their way past barricades. At one point, several surrounded an occupied police car and began rocking the vehicle while screaming incoherently.
The protest started overnight over unpaid wages and fears of spreading infection, according to the witness, asking to remain anonymous for fear of repercussions. Several workers were injured and anti-riot police arrived on the scene Wednesday to restore order, the person added.
In one video, irate workers surrounded a silent, downcast manager in a conference room to voice grievances and question their Covid test results. It wasn’t clear when the meeting took place.
“I’m really scared about this place, we all could be Covid positive now,” a male worker said. “You are sending us to death,” another person said.
The Zhengzhou campus was operating normally as of Wednesday evening, a Foxconn spokesperson said. The violence had erupted after a portion of recently arrived employees raised complaints about “work subsidies” —bonuses or payments on top of usual wages, Foxconn said in a statement. But the company stressed that it handles all such compensation in strict accordance with its contractual obligations.
“With regards to the violence, we are continuing to communicate with workers and the government, to avoid a recurrence,” the company said without elaborating.
The rare instances of violence at the plant in the central city of Zhengzhou reflect a build-up of tensions since the lockdown began in October. Many among the vast workforce of more than 200,000 at “iPhone City” have been plunged into isolation, forced to subsist on spartan meals and scrounge for medication.
Many eventually fled the plant on foot last month. Foxconn and the local government appeared to have gotten the situation under control in recent weeks, promising unusually high wages to attract new staff and promising better working conditions.
Wednesday morning’s protests suggest that is no longer the case. It underscores how Xi Jinping’s Covid Zero policy, which relies on swift lockdowns to stamp out the disease wherever it pops up, is increasingly weighing on the economy and throwing swathes of the global supply chain into disarray.