BEIJING (AP) — Workers at Apple’s world’s largest iPhone factory were beaten and detained during protests over pay amid virus checks, according to witnesses and social media videos on Wednesday, as tensions mount over Chinese efforts to tackle a further rise in infections.
Videos that said they had been filmed at the factory in the central city of Zhengzhou showed thousands of masked people confronting rows of police in white protective gear with plastic riot shields. Police kicked and beat a protester with batons after he grabbed a metal pole that had been used to beat him.
Frustration over restrictions in regions across China that have closed shops and offices and confined millions to their homes has turned 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 disruption by shortening quarantines and making other changes. But the party is sticking to a “zero-COVID” strategy that aims to isolate every case while other governments ease controls and try to live with the virus.
Thousands of workers left the iPhone factory operated by Taiwan’s Foxconn Technology Group last month following complaints of unsafe working conditions following virus cases.
According to Li Sanshan, an employee, a protest erupted on Tuesday following complaints from Foxconn to change the terms of new workers lured by higher pay offers.
Li said he quit a restaurant job in response to an advertisement promising 25,000 yuan ($3,500) for two months of work. Li, 28, said the workers were angry after being told they had to work two more months at lower wages to receive the 25,000 yuan.
“Foxconn posted very enticing recruitment offers, and workers from all parts of the country came, only to find they were being ridiculed,” Li said.
Foxconn, headquartered in New Taipei City, Taiwan, said in a statement that “working compensation” has “always been fulfilled on the basis of contractual obligation.”
Foxconn denied what it said were online comments that employees infected with the virus were living in dormitories at the Zhengzhou plant. He said the facilities were sanitized and passed government checks before employees 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 statement read.
Protests have erupted due to the number and severity of outbreaks has increased across China, prompting authorities in areas such as the capital Beijing to close neighborhoods and impose other restrictions that residents say go beyond what the national government allows.
More than 253,000 cases have been discovered in the past three weeks and the daily average is rising, the government reported on Tuesday. This week, authorities reported the first deaths from COVID-19 in China in six months.
On Wednesday, the government reported 28,883 cases discovered 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 carry out its anti-COVID policy while “resolutely overcoming the mindset of paralysis and laxity”, said a spokesperson for the National Health Commission, Mi Feng.
The city government of Guangzhou, the site of the biggest outbreaks, has announced the opening of 19 temporary hospitals with a total of nearly 70,000 beds for coronavirus patients. The city last week announced plans to build hospitals and quarantine facilities for 250,000 people.
Also on Wednesday, Beijing opened a hospital at an exhibition center and suspended access to Beijing International Studies University after a case of the virus was discovered there. The capital has previously closed shopping malls and office buildings and suspended access to some apartment complexes.
Foxconn said earlier that its Zhengzhou plant uses “closed-loop management,” meaning employees live in their workplaces without outside contact.
The protest lasted until Wednesday morning as thousands of workers gathered outside dormitories and clashed with factory security guards, according to Li.
Other videos showed protesters spraying fire extinguishers towards police.
A man who identified himself as the Communist Party’s secretary for community services was shown in a video posted on social media platform Sina Weibo urging protesters to stand down. He assured them that their demands would be met.
Apple Inc. has warned that shipments of its new iPhone 14 model will be delayed due to factory disease checks. The city government has suspended access to an industrial zone that surrounds the plant, which Foxconn says employs 200,000 people.
News reports said the ruling party had ordered “low-level cadres” to replace Foxconn employees in Zhengzhou who left. The company did not respond to requests for confirmation and details of this arrangement.
Zen Soo reported from Hong Kong. Caroline Chen, AP press assistant, contributed.
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