By JOE McDONALD and ZEN SOO
AP Business Writers
BEIJING (AP) — Employees at the world’s biggest Apple iPhone factory were beaten and detained in protests over contract disputes amid anti-virus controls, according to witnesses and videos on social media Wednesday, as tensions mount over Beijing’s severe coronavirus strategy.
Videos that said they were filmed at the factory in the central city of Zhengzhou showed thousands of people in masks facing rows of police in white protective suits with plastic riot shields. Police kicked and hit a protester with clubs after he grabbed a metal pole that had been used to strike him.
Frustration with restrictions in areas throughout China that have closed shops and offices and confined millions of people to their homes for weeks at a time with little warning have boiled over into protests in some areas. Videos on social media show residents in some areas tearing down barricades set up to enforce neighborhood closures.
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 in the facility.
A protest erupted Tuesday over complaints Foxconn changed conditions for new workers who were attracted by offers of higher pay, according to Li Sanshan, an employee.
Li said he quit a catering job in response to advertising that promised 25,000 yuan ($3,500) for two months of work. Li, 28, said workers were angry after being told they had to work two additional months at lower pay to receive the 25,000 yuan.
“Foxconn released very tempting recruiting offers, and workers from all parts of the country came, only to find they were being made fools of,” Li said.
The ruling Communist Party promised this month to try to reduce 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 every case at a time when other governments are relaxing travel and other restrictions and trying to live with the virus.
Protests have flared as the number and severity of outbreaks has risen across China, including in Beijing. This week, authorities reported the country’s first COVID-19 deaths in six months.
More than 253,000 cases have been found in the past three weeks and the daily average is increasing, the government reported Tuesday. Local leaders have responded by closing neighborhoods and imposing other restrictions that residents complain go beyond what the national government allows.
On Wednesday, the government reported 28,883 cases found over the past 24 hours, including 26,242 with no symptoms. Henan province, where Zhengzhou is the capital, reported 851 in total.
The government will enforce its anti-COVID policy while “resolutely overcoming the mindset of paralysis and laxity,” said a spokesman for the National Health Commission, Mi Feng.
The capital, Beijing, has closed shops, restaurants, office buildings and some apartment compounds.
Shanghai and the southern city of Nanchang banned people from outside the city from visiting public venues for five days after arrival.
Foxconn said earlier the Zhengzhou factory uses “closed-loop management,” which means employees live at their workplace with no outside contact.
The protest lasted through Wednesday morning as thousands of workers gathered outside dormitories and confronted factory security workers, according to Li.
Other videos showed protesters spraying fire extinguishers toward police.
A man who identified himself as the Communist Party secretary in charge of community services was shown in a video posted on the Sina Weibo social media platform urging protesters to withdraw. He assured them their demands would be met.
Apple Inc. has warned deliveries of its new iPhone 14 model would be delayed due to anti-disease controls on the factory. The city government suspended access to an industrial zone that surrounds the factory, which Foxconn has said employs 200,000 people.
Foxconn, headquartered in Taipei, Taiwan, didn’t respond to requests for information about the situation.
New reports earlier said the ruling party ordered “grassroots cadres” to fill in for Foxconn employees in Zhengzhou who left. The company didn’t respond to requests for confirmation and details about that arrangement.
Zen Soo reported from Hong Kong. AP news assistant Caroline Chen contributed.
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