Workers say that promised bonuses (referred to in local reports as â€œsubsidiesâ€) have not been paid; that there is inadequate food and medical supplies for workers locked into the facility; and that the company is failing to properly separate infected and uninfected employees â€¦
The trouble began when there was a COVID-19 outbreak inside Foxconnâ€™s biggest iPhone assembly plant in Zhengzhou â€“ also known locally as iPhone City.
At the time, the company claimed that the situation was under control, though this meant already-tough closed-loop production rules were made even tighter. This included closing canteens, and very tight control of where workers were allowed to go within the facility.
It wasnâ€™t long before workers complained that infections were continuing to spread within the plant, and that there wasnâ€™t enough food and medication. Significant numbers chose to break out of the plant, and return to their home towns.
Foxconn initially offered bonuses to persuade workers to stay, and then increased them up to ten-fold when this didnâ€™t work. Infections continued to spread, and the plant was placed on an even more stringent lockdown.
Violent clashes seen in video footage
Video footage (below) shows clashes between Foxconn workers and people in white suits. While some reports say the white-suited figures are Foxconn security, the majority describe them as police officers. It is known that both riot police and armed police were sent to the scene.
In one clip, these figures can be seen kicking and stomping on someone laying on the ground. In another, a police car is surrounded by protestors. One clip shows injured people in an ambulance. Other footage shows a lot of pushing and jostling between workers and police, as well as use of batons.
Some workers are also seen with sticks, smashing windows and security cameras. BBC News reports that a â€œheavy police deploymentâ€ included large numbers of armed officers.
Bloomberg reports that employees expected to continue to work on the production lines have no faith in their negative test results.
In one video, irate workers surrounded a silent, downcast manager in a conference room to voice grievances and question their Covid test results. It wasnâ€™t clear when the meeting took place.
â€œIâ€™m really scared about this place, we all could be Covid positive now,â€ a male worker said. â€œYou are sending us to death,â€ another person said.
Foxconn said that it was working with staff and local government officials to prevent further violence, and denied reports of unpaid bonuses, saying that it would fulfill all its financial obligations to workers. It also denied claims by new recruits that they were being housed in dormitories with existing workers who had tested positive for COVID-19.
In such chaotic conditions, it can often prove extremely difficult to determine the realities of conflicting claims. Whatever the truth, however, itâ€™s clear that many workers have no faith in Foxconnâ€™s handling of the outbreak. We would hope that Apple has sent a team to the plant to investigate the events, and ensure that proper worker protections are put in place.
Resolving this situation is made much harder by Chinaâ€™s official response to the pandemic. The country has insisted on using its own vaccines, which are far less effective than those available in most countries, and on a â€œCOVID Zeroâ€ policy in which even tiny infection rates result in citywide lockdowns. However carefully managed, closed-loop production â€“ where workers remain in the facility 24/7 for up to a month at a time â€“ will always be tough.
With similar violent clashes at other factories and in other cities, itâ€™s clear that the patience of the population is at breaking point, and that sooner or later the Chinese government is going to have to rethink its COVID-19 response.