Workers leave iPhone factory, highlighting virus woes

Workers leave iPhone factory, highlighting virus woes

BEIJING (AP) — Workers assembling Apple Inc.’s newest iPhone have walked out of a factory in central China after virus outbreaks and complaints about unsafe working conditions, highlighting the clash between the disease’s lasting risks and efforts to restore the global flow of goods. .

Employees began leaving the Foxconn factory in Zhengzhou after some fell ill in mid-October and were not treated, according to an employee who asked not to be identified by name. He said Foxconn has started requiring face masks and is disinfecting the workplace daily, but work is continuing as normal.

“There are still people getting infected on the assembly lines and they are still worried about going to work,” the employee said Monday by phone from Zhengzhou. He said that he had left the factory and planned to return to his hometown.

As other countries ease anti-virus restrictions, exporters in China are trying to fill orders while coping with a “Covid zero” strategy that abruptly shuts down cities for a week or more to contain outbreaks.

In a statement, Foxconn said it is using “closed-loop management” in Zhengzhou, an official term for making employees live at their workplace with no outside contact. The company said it was providing three meals a day. He did not say when those measures began.

Foxconn, also known as Hon Hai Precision Electronics Inc., did not respond to questions about how many employees were infected, whether new cases were occurring, or complaints that people who were sick in early October were not being treated.

The activist group China Labor Watch said that Foxconn was under pressure from Apple to maintain its production of the iPhone 14 during its “peak production season”. He said the factory in Zhengzhou, with 90 assembly lines, is the main iPhone assembly site.

Apple did not respond to questions about how production might be affected. Foxconn’s statement said the company would coordinate with other factories to “reduce any potential impact.”

It was unclear how many workers left the factory, which Foxconn said employs about 200,000 people. The employee in Zhengzhou and social media posts said half were gone.

President Xi Jinping’s government faces mounting public frustration over controls that have confined tens of millions of people to their homes. That has turned into protests and fights with the police in Shanghai and other cities.

Headquartered in Taipei, Taiwan, Foxconn is the world’s largest contract assembler of smartphones and other consumer electronics. Its factories, with hundreds of thousands of employees, are among the largest private employers in China.

Companies are required to pay for anti-disease controls and monitoring of employees for possible contagion. That gives them an incentive to cut corners. Those with a large workforce may miss breaches.

Foxconn was slow to react, according to news reports, China Labor Watch and the employee contacted by phone in Zhengzhou.

“At the beginning of the outbreak, no one took care of the workers who were confirmed to have contracted the virus,” the employee said. “No food and no medicine.”

Later, when employees who tested positive were quarantined, Foxconn used sites that included nearby unfinished apartment buildings, according to China Labor Watch. Employees complained that the food provided by the factory was of poor quality.

Employees living in crowded factory dormitories worry about neighbors who test positive and are released after a week in quarantine, the employee in Zhengzhou said.

“They have no choice but to leave,” he said.

Videos on social media showed people said to be Foxconn employees climbing fences and walking down a street with their belongings. It was impossible to confirm whether all the videos featured Foxconn employees.

Volunteers from nearby towns handed out food and drinks to the workers. Governments of cities near Zhengzhou have called on Foxconn workers to report to authorities in their hometowns for quarantine.

Foxconn and the Zhengzhou city government announced on Sunday that they would arrange transportation for employees who want to leave.

“The well-being of our workforce is a priority,” the Foxconn statement said. He asked for “understanding and support.”

“Zero COVID” has helped keep China’s infection numbers down, but at a mounting cost that has prompted warnings that the ruling party needs a less disruptive strategy. Restaurants and other small businesses have closed due to high costs and falling revenues.

The economic impact of virus checks is so severe that foreign companies are shifting planned investments to other countries, business groups say.

Apple Inc. recently announced it will also make its iPhone 14 at a Foxconn factory in India.

Fewer than one in five companies surveyed by the American Chamber of Commerce in Shanghai rank China number one in investment plans, down from 27% last year, according to the chamber. He said travel restrictions and quarantines have “turned off the desire” for executives to visit.

“Unless China harmonizes its COVID policies with the rest of the world, this fall from grace may repeat itself next year,” the chamber said in a report.

Auto factories, securities firms and some other companies in Shanghai continued to operate under “closed-loop” conditions after the city went into lockdown in March following virus outbreaks.

They paid bonuses of up to 100% of employees’ salary, according to Bettina Schoen-Behanzin, vice president of the European Union Chamber of Commerce in China.

“The costs are quite high,” he said.

AP researcher Yu Bing in Beijing and business writer Zen Soo in Hong Kong contributed.

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