BEIJING (AP) — Employees at Apple’s world’s largest iPhone factory were beaten and detained in protests over contract disputes amid anti-virus checks, according to witnesses and videos on social media Wednesday, as tensions escalate over the Beijing’s severe strategy against the coronavirus.
Videos saying they were filmed at the factory in the central city of Zhengzhou showed thousands of people wearing masks 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 of China that closed shops and offices and confined millions of people to their homes for weeks without warning turned into protests in some areas. Videos on social media show residents in some areas tearing down barricades set up to enforce neighborhood lockdowns.
Last month, thousands of employees walked out of the iPhone factory operated by Taiwan’s Foxconn Technology Group over complaints about unsafe working conditions following virus cases at the facility.
A protest broke out on Tuesday over complaints that Foxconn changed conditions for new workers who were lured by offers of higher wages, according to Li Sanshan, an employee.
Li said he quit a catering 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 would have to work two more months at lower pay to receive the 25,000 yuan.
“Foxconn put out very tempting recruitment offers, and workers came from all over the country, only to find out they were being cheated,” Li said.
The ruling Communist Party vowed this month to try to reduce the disruption by shortening required quarantines and making other changes. But the party says it will stick to its “zero-COVID” strategy that aims to isolate each case at a time when other governments are relaxing travel and other restrictions and trying to live with the virus.
Protests have erupted as the number and severity of outbreaks it has increased throughout China, including in Beijing. This week, authorities reported the first deaths from COVID-19 in the country in six months.
More than 253,000 cases have been found in the past three weeks and the daily average is rising, the government said on Tuesday. Local leaders have responded by locking down neighborhoods and imposing other restrictions that residents complain go beyond what the national government allows.
On Wednesday, the government reported 28,883 cases found in the last 24 hours, including 26,242 without symptoms. Henan province, where Zhengzhou is the capital, reported 851 in total.
The government will enforce its anti-COVID policy while “resolutely overcoming the paralysis and lax mentality,” said a spokesperson for the National Health Commission, Mi Feng.
The capital, Beijing, has closed shops, restaurants, office buildings and some apartment complexes.
Shanghai and the southern city of Nanchang have banned people from out of town from visiting public places for five days after their arrival.
Foxconn previously said the Zhengzhou factory uses “closed-loop management,” meaning employees live at their workplace without contact with the outside.
The protest lasted until Wednesday morning when thousands of workers gathered in front of the dormitories and clashed with 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 appeared 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. warned that deliveries of its new iPhone 14 model would be delayed due to disease controls at the factory. The city government has suspended access to an industrial zone surrounding the factory, which Foxconn says employs 200,000 people.
Taipei, Taiwan-based Foxconn did not respond to requests for information on the situation.
New earlier reports said the ruling party ordered “grassroots cadres” to replace Foxconn employees in Zhengzhou who left. The company did not respond to requests for confirmation and details about that arrangement.
Zen Soo reported from Hong Kong. Caroline Chen, an AP news assistant, contributed.