Tech maker Foxconn has to negotiate with Xbox 360 workers who had threatened a “mass suicide”
Taiwanese electronics maker Foxconn is once again in the headlines after hundreds of workers reportedly threatened to commit mass suicide at one of its factories.
Foxconn is the electronics manufacturer that has a large number of factories on mainland China producing many electronic devices, including the Apple iPad. It is currently the largest private-sector employer in China and is said to have over one million employees.
The 300 Foxconn workers involved in the mass suicide threat were working on the Xbox 360 assembly line at the Foxconn Technology Park in Wuhan, the capital of Hubei province.
Staff reportedly had been told they would be transferred to another business unit due to a shift in production lines.
Exactly what triggered the problem remains unclear at this time. The official line is that 45 employees opted to voluntarily resign, while the rest decided to keep their jobs. But, according to the Taiwanese newspaper Want China Times, it seems that the protests centred around a pay dispute.
The newspaper said the problem began on 2 January, after staff had requested a pay rise. They were informed they could either resign their positions, with compensation, or keep their jobs and receive no additional payment. Most workers apparently opted for the first option, but Foxconn allegedly reneged on the compensation deal.
The outraged workers apparently climbed onto the factory roof (photos here) and threatened to jump. They were eventually talked out of the mass suicide by the Wuhan mayor at 9pm on 3 January.
“We were put to work without any training, and paid piecemeal,” said one of the protesting workers, speaking to the Daily Telegraph. “The assembly line ran very fast and after just one morning we all had blisters and the skin on our hand was black. The factory was also really choked with dust and no one could bear it,” he said.
A spokesman for Foxconn confirmed the protest to the Telegraph, but said that the incident was “successfully and peacefully resolved after discussions between the workers, local Foxconn officials and representatives from the local government”.
The Foxconn spokesman said that 45 staff had chosen to resign, and the remainder had returned to work. “The welfare of our employees is our top priority and we are committed to ensuring that all employees are treated fairly,” he reportedly said.
This is not the first time working conditions at FoxConn have made headlines. In 2010, a number of workers committed suicide, throwing themselves from factory buildings. In May, 2010, Foxconn agreed to raise the wages of its workers by 20 percent, despite reports that the Taiwanese company had considered closing its mainland Chinese plants. Foxconn also installed anti-jumper nets on its high rise buildings to prevent more suicides.
Despite these measures, Foxconn was forced to strenuously reject ‘unsubstantiated allegations’ in the Chinese media in October 2010 that its staff were being abused. These concerns about the working conditions at Foxconn, coupled with the worker suicides, led Apple and other tech giants to conduct investigations, which eventually gave the company a clean bill of health. And in June 2010, Apple’s Steve Jobs dismissed claims that Foxconn was a sweatshop.
This position was supported in February, 2011, when Apple published its annual report on its supply chain. However its report did uncover an increasing problem of child labour after finding that 91 children under the age of 16 years old had worked at other suppliers in 2010.
In May, 2011, Foxconn was back in the news when a number of its workers were killed in an explosion at a factory in Chengdu, which is the capital city of China’s Sichuan province. According to media reports at that time, the explosion happened in a polishing workshop in the factory where Apple’s iPad 2 tablets were being made, and is believed to have been caused by a build-up of aluminium dust. Videos of the aftermath of the explosion were uploaded to YouTube.
In August, Foxconn announced that it would replace a significant portion of its workforce with robots. The giant electronics maker is looking to increase its robot workforce from 10,000 to 300,000 this year.