Rioting iPhone workers smash surveillance cameras and clash with China Covid police

Authorities were seen beating workers
Authorities were seen beating workers

Hundreds of workers joined protests at Foxconn's flagship iPhone plant in China, smashing surveillance cameras and windows and clashing with hazmat-clad police over Covid restrictions and poor working conditions.

The skirmishes brokes out at the plant in Zhengzhou after workers marched out of their dormitories in  a rare show of open dissent, verified videos which have been published on social media show.

In one video verified by AFP, a man is shown with a bloodied face, while someone off-camera says, “They're hitting people, hitting people. Do they have a conscience?”

Another video shows overturned cars and smashed up Covid-testing booths.

The trigger for the protests appeared to be a plan to delay bonus payments, many of the demonstrators said on livestream feeds. The videos could not be immediately verified by Reuters.

"Give us our pay!", chanted workers who were surrounded by people in full hazmat suits, some carrying batons, according to footage from one video.

Police are shown using tear gas on protesters in one nighttime video, while in another video, hazmat-clad police are shown kicking a protester after they had fallen to the ground.

Authorities worked to quell the unrest. In one nighttime video, a voice on the loudspeaker is heard asking workers to return to their dorms and “do not associate with a small minority of illegal elements.”

The company’s Zhengzhou plant, employing about 200,000 workers, recently saw a surge in Covid cases, leading it to shutter the complex and operate in a “closed loop” bubble in an attempt to prevent the virus from spreading.

Under closed-loop operations, staff live and work on-site isolated from the wider world.

Hundreds of employees attempted to flee on foot to escape the lockdown.

Former workers have estimated that thousands fled the factory campus. Before the unrest, the Zhengzhou plant employed some 200,000 people. To retain staff and lure more workers Foxconn has had to offer bonuses and higher salaries.

In the videos, workers vented about how they were never sure if they were going get meals while in quarantine and complained that there were inadequate curbs in place to contain an outbreak."Foxconn never treats humans as humans," said one person.

Foxconn and Apple did not respond to requests for comment.

"It's now evident that closed-loop production in Foxconn only helps in preventing Covid from spreading to the city, but does nothing (if not make it even worse) for the workers in the factory," Aiden Chau of China Labour Bulletin, a Hong Kong-based advocacy group, said in an email.

As of Wednesday afternoon, most of the footage on Kuaishou, a social media platform where Reuters reviewed many of the videos, had been taken down. Kuaishou did not respond to a request for comment.

A “Foxconn riots” hashtag also appeared to have been censored on Weibo on Wednesday, with photos and videos removed, though some posts discussing the riots were still up.

The protest images come at a time when investors are concerned about escalating global supply chain issues owing in part to China's zero-Covid policies that aim to stamp out every outbreak.

The curbs and discontent have hit production. Reuters last month reported that iPhone output at the Zhengzhou factory could slump by as much as 30 per cent in November due to Covid restrictions.

Foxconn is Apple's biggest iPhone maker, accounting for 70 per cent of iPhone shipments globally. It makes most of the phones at the Zhengzhou plant, though it has other smaller production sites in India and southern China.

China is seeing a string of Covid outbreaks across the country, with 28,883 new domestically transmitted infections cases on Tuesday approaching April records.

Beijing has shut down office buildings, museums and parks and asked residents to avoid going outside unless necessary. Other cities have enacted several consecutive days of mass PCR testing.