The world’s largest iPhone factory in China has offered new staff 10,000 yuan (£1,160) to leave the plant immediately in a desperate effort to end days-long violent riots over conditions at the plant, according to reports.
The site in Zhengzhou, owned by Taiwanese tech giant Foxconn – Apple’s main subcontractor – has been rocked by escalating unrest sparked by workers angry at reportedly being delayed bonus payments and accusations that they are forced to share dormitories with colleagues who had tested positive for Covid.
Videos posted overnight on Wednesday appeared to show hundreds of Foxconn staff clashing with Covid officials and police officers in white hazmat suits. The officials can be seen retreating as workers dismantle barricades and throw the pieces at them.
CHINA: Protests getting out of hand at Foxconn iPhone plant in Zhengzhou tonight where workers are rebelling against Covid harsh restrictions and work environment pic.twitter.com/xwe2oAHYge
— Joyce Karam (@Joyce_Karam) November 23, 2022
It came after an offer late Wednesday by Foxconn to pay each new hire 8,000 yuan (£928) if they tendered their resignation immediately and another 2,000 yuan (£232) upon boarding a bus out of the factory campus, according to Chinese online media outlet Cailianshe.
The protests erupted on Tuesday, with hundreds of workers shown clashing with hazmat-clad police, overturning cars and smashing Covid-testing booths, according to verified videos circulating on social media.
Foxconn was left scrambling to hire new workers after last month, it imposed a Covid lockdown at its Zhengzhou plant, spurring thousands of workers to flee. To keep production going, the company went on a hiring spree, promising higher pay and bonuses to new employees.
The company has now apologized to workers, blaming a technical error for new hires being misinformed about an alleged delay in bonus payments.
“Our team has been looking into the matter and discovered a technical error occurred during the onboarding process,” Foxconn said in a statement on Thursday, referring to the hiring process. “We apologize for an input error in the computer system and guarantee that the actual pay is the same as agreed in the official recruitment posters.”
This was an about-face from Wednesday, when the company had told Reuters all its payment obligations to workers had been fulfilled.
By Thursday, protests at the plant were largely under control, a source told Reuters, while the company continued to communicate with employees engaged in smaller protests.
Apple said earlier in November the Zhengzhou plant was operating at reduced capacity and customers would have to wait longer for new iPhones.
It came as the Zhengzhou government announced it would start a five-day lockdown on Friday to curb Covid infections following the Foxconn protests. The city of 10.3 million reported 674 local infections on Thursday, down from 827 a day earlier.
China, one of the last countries in the world to maintain a strict zero-Covid policy, reached a record high in Covid infections on Thursday, with 31,444 local transmissions, including 1,648 in Beijing, which so far has not imposed a hard lockdown.