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Foxconn, the world’s biggest iPhone factory in Zhengzhou, China, with around 200,000 workers, had strict COVID measures put in place about two weeks ago to stem an outbreak from spreading outside the plant. The company didn’t allow employees to leave the campus and required regular testing. The closed-loop operation provoked workers, who complained about poor living conditions. So, many of them broke out of the assembly site this weekend, climbing fences and trekking home on foot.
Over the weekend, social media clips showed workers fleeing the factory on foot with their belongings and walking home on highways to avoid checkpoints imposed by the country’s strict zero-COVID measures. In response, a pandemic task force was sent to the plant. Nearby cities have been making plans to isolate the workers who have fled.
Now, the company is promising safe passage for workers who choose to leave and a sanitized workspace for those who are staying on. Foxconn is also raising hourly wages by as much as 36% for critical positions to avoid disrupting production ahead of the holidays.
“We are deeply aware that it’s a ‘protracted war’ in terms of how to take care of over 200,000 workers and their security,” said Foxconn in a Monday stock exchange filing.
“The company left infected patients to stay in the dorm with their roommates … how can the factory protect our safety like this?” said a Weibo user. Another user posted, “My wife is quarantined in her dorm in Foxconn, but she and her roommate have been having a fever for three days, and no one was there to deal with the situation.”
“The official account of three COVID cases and 24 asymptomatic infections for Friday was not very serious, but many Zhengzhou residents I spoke to on the phone said their neighbourhoods were under lockdown, which had raised doubts about whether the actual number of infections was more than officially reported,” said Hu XiJin, the former editor-in-chief of nationalist daily Global Times.
“Further developments will be important as 4Q is the peak season for iPhone shipments,” said Morgan Stanley analysts. “The potential impact on iPhone production is worth monitoring as Zhengzhou is one of Hon Hai’s major production sites, particularly for iPhone assembly.”