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Workers protest, struck at virus-hit Chinese iPhone factory

BEIJING (AP) – Workers at the world’s largest Apple iPhone factory were beaten and detained in protests over wages amid anti-virus controls, according to witnesses and videos on social media Wednesday, as tensions rise over Chinese efforts to combat a renewed surge in infections.

Videos said to have been filmed at the factory in the central city of Zhengzhou showed thousands of masked people facing rows of police in white protective suits with plastic riot shields. Police kicked and clubbed a protester after he grabbed a metal pole that had been used to beat him.

Frustration with restrictions in areas across China that have closed shops and offices and confined millions of people to their homes has boiled over into protests. Videos on social media show residents tearing down barricades set up to enforce neighborhood closures.

The ruling Communist Party pledged this month to try to reduce disruptions by shortening quarantines and making other changes. But the party is sticking to a “zero COVID”[ads1]; strategy that aims to isolate all cases while other governments relax controls and try to live with the virus.

Last month, thousands of workers walked out of the iPhone factory run by Taiwan’s Foxconn Technology Group over complaints of unsafe working conditions following virus cases.

A protest erupted Tuesday over complaints Foxconn changed conditions for new workers who were attracted by offers of higher wages, according to Li Sanshan, an employee.

Li said he quit a catering job in response to advertisements promising 25,000 yuan ($3,500) for two months’ work. Li, 28, said the workers were angry after being told they would have to work another two months at lower wages to receive 25,000 yuan.

“Foxconn put out very tempting recruitment offers, and workers from all parts of the country came, only to find they were made fools of,” Li said.

Foxconn, headquartered in New Taipei City, Taiwan, said in a statement that the “labor allowance” has “always been fulfilled based on contractual obligation.”

Foxconn denied what it said were comments online that employees with the virus lived in dormitories at the Zhengzhou factory. It said facilities were disinfected and passed government checks before staff moved in.

“Regarding any violence, the company will continue to communicate with employees and the government to prevent similar incidents from happening again,” the company’s statement said.

Protests have flared as the number and severity of outbreaks have risen across China, prompting authorities in areas including Beijing, the capital, to shut down neighborhoods and impose other restrictions that residents say go beyond what the national government allows.

More than 253,000 cases have been found in the past three weeks, and the daily average is rising, the government reported on Tuesday. This week, authorities reported China’s first COVID-19 death in six months.

On Wednesday, the government reported 28,883 cases found in the past 24 hours, including 26,242 without symptoms. Henan province, of which Zhengzhou is the capital, reported 851 in total.

The government will enforce its anti-COVID policy while “resolutely overcoming the mindset of paralysis and laxity,” National Health Commission spokesman Mi Feng said.

The city government of Guangzhou, the site of the largest outbreaks, announced it was opening 19 temporary hospitals with a total of nearly 70,000 beds for coronavirus patients. The city announced plans last week to build hospitals and quarantine facilities for 250,000 people.

Also on Wednesday, Beijing opened a hospital in an exhibition center and suspended access to Beijing International Studies University after a virus case was found there. The capital previously closed shopping centers and office buildings and suspended access to some apartment complexes.

Foxconn previously said that the factory in Zhengzhou uses “closed-loop management”, which means that employees live in their workplace without contact from the outside.

The protest lasted until Wednesday morning when thousands of workers gathered outside dormitories and confronted factory security workers, according to Li.

Other videos showed protesters spraying fire extinguishers at police.

A man who identified himself as the Communist Party secretary in charge of community services was shown in a video posted on the Sina Weibo social media platform urging protesters to withdraw. He assured them that their demands would be met.

Apple Inc. has warned deliveries of the new iPhone 14 model will be delayed due to anti-disease checks at the factory. The city council suspended access to an industrial zone surrounding the factory, which Foxconn has said employs 200,000 people.

News reports said the ruling party had ordered “grassroots cadres” to fill in for Foxconn workers in Zhengzhou who left. The company did not respond to requests for confirmation and details of this arrangement.


Zen Soo reported from Hong Kong. AP news assistant Caroline Chen contributed.

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