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China deploys village cadres to help Foxconn hire workers

Central China’s Henan province is mobilising its grass-roots governance system to help recruit workers for the world’s largest iPhone factory, run by Foxconn Technology Group in the provincial capital Zhengzhou, in an uncharacteristic move by the local government to safeguard the country’s position in Apple’s supply chain.

The help came after draconian Covid-19 lockdowns have disrupted production at the plant, which usually employs more than 200,000 workers, prompting Apple to issue a rare statement warning about a slowdown in shipments of the iPhone 14 Pro and iPhone 14 Pro Max, and raising questions about whether China is still the ideal production hub for Apple.

Three workers, who were among the many who fled from Foxconn’s gated compound in the past two weeks over fears of the virus, confirmed to the Post that they received phone calls from cadres in their home villages, persuading them to return to the assembly lines.

One worker, who declined to be named, said a local cadre even promised a cash bonus of 600 yuan (US$83) if he agreed to go back to work, which would be on top of the 500 yuan bonus that Foxconn is already offering to returning workers. The company has also quadrupled its daily attendance bonus to 400 yuan since the start of the month.

Some villages in Henan have been asked to contribute at least one worker each, although it was taken more as a guideline rather than a mandatory requirement, according to a report this week by Chinese newspaper National Business Daily.

Village cadres are also likely to be responsible for arranging travel logistics for returning workers, such as booking shuttle buses for point-to-point transfer.

All three workers who spoke to the Post said they turned down the cadres’ offers, citing reasons such as subpar hygiene conditions in dormitories and insufficient financial incentives.

The involvement of grass-roots officials in recruiting workers for Foxconn, formally known as Hon Hai Precision Industry, underscores the importance of the company to the local economy as a key exporter and taxpayer.

It also reflects China’s struggles in walking a fine line between two conflicting goals: containing a virus that is freely spreading in the rest of the world, while keeping the country’s economic growth on track.

On Friday, China announced major easing of its strict Covid-19 measures for inbound travellers, including a reduction in the quarantine and home isolation period.

This comes after the new line-up of China’s top leadership, the seven-member Politburo Standing Committee chaired by President Xi Jinping, concluded on Thursday that the nation must carry on with its “dynamic zero” Covid-19 policy, although the implementation will be tweaked to reduce disruption to production activities.

Foxconn’s factory in Zhengzhou has been operating under a closed-loop mode that keeps workers on campus day and night. As Covid-19 cases rose in the facility last month, workers began to complain about “terrible” living conditions and many escaped, their anxiety exacerbated by the Chinese government’s long-running campaign that stresses the dangers of the virus to justify snap lockdowns.

Foxconn chairman Liu Young-way said on Thursday that the plant in Zhengzhou was “making efforts to resume normal productivity as soon as possible”. He also expressed gratitude for the support from local authorities.

Videos circulating on Chinese social media showed quarantine personnel at Foxconn’s compound throwing out luggage and personal belongings of earlier workers from dormitory windows to clear up space for new arrivals.

The company on Monday said it would revise down its outlook for the fourth quarter due to the pandemic’s impact on its Zhengzhou operations. South China Morning Post

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