November 27, 2022

BEIJING (AP) – Workers at the world’s largest Apple iPhone factory have been beaten and arrested during protests over contract disputes amid antivirus checks, according to workers and videos posted on social media on Wednesday.

Videos on Chinese social media saying they were filmed at the factory in downtown Zhengzhou showed thousands of people wearing masks facing rows of police officers in white hazmat suits with plastic shields. One person was hit in the head with a club and another was taken away with his arms crossed behind his back.

Other videos showed protesters spraying fire extinguishers at police.

Postings on social media said they were protesting unspecified breaches of contract.

The factory operator, Foxconn Technology Group, previously said it uses “closed-loop management,” which refers to employees living incommunicado at their workplace. This was followed last month by a strike by thousands of employees over complaints about inadequate virus protection and a lack of help for sick colleagues.

Apple Inc. previously warned that deliveries of its new iPhone 14 model would be delayed due to anti-disease controls imposed on the Zhengzhou factory. The city government blocked access to an industrial area surrounding the factory, which Foxconn says employs 200,000 people.

Foxconn, headquartered in Taipei, Taiwan, did not immediately respond to a request for information about the situation.

According to new reports, the ruling Communist Party ordered “grassroots cadres” to fill in for Foxconn employees in Zhengzhou who have left. The company did not respond to requests for confirmation and details of this agreement.

Last month, hordes of Foxconn workers left the factory en masse to avoid COVID curbs. Videos circulating on social media showed workers carrying bags of belongings and walking, while some volunteers left food and water for the workers on the streets.

China is the only major country in the world still trying to curb virus transmission through strict lockdown measures and mass testing, and the strategy is being tested by multiple outbreaks caused by fast-spreading Omicron variants.

Protests have flared as the number and severity of outbreaks have increased across China, including in Beijing. Earlier this week, authorities reported multiple COVID-19 deaths for the first time in six months.

The Chinese government said Tuesday more than 253,000 coronavirus cases have been found in the past three weeks and the daily average is rising.

Foxconn and the local government have promised high wages and better working conditions to attract new workers to the factory.

Meanwhile, the COVID curbs remain in place, and the factory says it will continue its “closed system” to reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission.

The Foxconn facility in Zhengzhou can accommodate up to 350,000 factory workers, but it’s not clear how many are currently employed at the factory. It’s also unclear how many of them left or how many were affected by COVID-19 curbs introduced at the factory before they left.

Zen Soo contributed from Hong Kong. AP news assistant Caroline Chen in Guangzhou, China, contributed.

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