More than 20,000 employees at Apple supplier Foxconn’s giant Chinese plant, mostly new hires who are not yet working on production lines, have left, a Foxconn source familiar with the matter told Reuters news agency on Friday.
The exit from the world’s largest iPhone factory dealt a new blow to the Taiwanese company, which was struggling with strict COVID-19 restrictions, which led to dissatisfaction among workers and interrupted production ahead of Christmas and the New Year holidays in January.
Concerns about Apple’s ability to deliver products for the busy holiday season are growing as labor unrest continues at the Zhengzhou plant, which makes the US company’s popular iPhone 14 models.
The departures will complicate Foxconn’s goal of resuming full production by the end of November, following the sometimes violent unrest, the source said.
Foxconn, officially known as Hon Hai Precision Industry Co, declined to comment. Apple, which said on Thursday that it had employees at the factory, declined to comment on Friday.
In a rare case of open disagreement in China, employees have complained about sharing dormitories with colleagues who have tested positive for COVID. They claim they were misled because of the compensation payments at the factory, which account for 70 percent of global iPhone shipments.
Foxconn offered 10,000 yuan ($1,400) on Thursday to protesting recruits who agreed to resign and leave the plant.
The company apologized for a “technical error” in hiring due to pay, which workers say led to protests that resulted in clashes with security personnel.
Videos posted on Chinese social media on Friday showed crowds and long lines of workers loaded with luggage standing in line in front of buses. “It is time to go home,” one person wrote.
Another Foxconn source familiar with the matter said some new hires had left campus but did not elaborate on how many. This person said the departures had no impact on current production, as the new employees would still need to complete training before they could work online.
“The incident has a big impact on our public image, but little on our (current) capacity. Our current capacity is not affected,” the source said.
“There’s only so much companies can do to prevent the pandemic… It’s been a problem for a while now. This is an issue everyone is facing,” the person said, pointing to unrest from other workers sparked by strict COVID restrictions, including upheaval at another Apple supplier, Quanta, in May.
The unrest at the Foxconn plant is due to China seeing record numbers of COVID infections and struggling with increasing lockdowns, which have increased the frustration of citizens across the country. It has also revealed communication issues and the mistrust of some employees towards Foxconn management.
Foxconn launched a hiring campaign this month and promised bonuses and higher salaries after the company had to enact COVID restrictions in October. The restrictions forced the company to isolate many employees, causing several to flee.