Apple parts maker Foxconn denied Sunday that about 4,000 workers at its plant in Central China's Zhengzhou reportedly went on strike Friday to protest against overtime work and newly issued rules, saying only some 200 workers were "absent intentionally" because of poor communication between workers.
A New York based non-government organization, China Labor Watch (CLW), first released a report on Saturday saying that 3,000 to 4,000 workers, mainly quality inspectors, went on strike and that production was suspended for a day.
Li Qiang, the founder of CLW, told the Global Times that over 300 quality inspectors started the strike in the morning and around 4,000 workers participated in it. However, the strike ended after company authorities said they would deal with their requests, but did not provide any detailed measures.
The company's statement admitted that disputes had occurred between inspectors and assembly workers and said there was poor communication after stricter rules were issued on October 1.
According to CLW, the new rules included demands related to scratches on frames and back covers of the iPhone 5, the latest product from Apple, with Foxconn being a major component supplier.
"The company has been receiving complaints about the fragile phone shell and the strict demand was unlikely to be met. We were reprimanded once every day before getting off from work," a worker at Foxconn's Zhengzhou plant surnamed Huang said to the Global Times.
"Moreover, such strict standards were issued during the holiday for the traditional Mid-Autumn Festival and National Day and all workers for iPhone 5, excluding iPhone 4S, were working extra hours. The atmosphere here was weird and no one felt right," Huang added.
A Foxconn statement said the company "should have helped to smooth the communication between workers, and explained the rule more to prevent the 'intentional absence.'"
"Apple put pressure on Foxconn, which later transferred that pressure onto the workers," Li Zhao, a researcher with CLW, told the Global Times.
"Workers came to an agreement on working extra hours after the company talked to them, and Foxconn has been trying to reduce overtime and strictly follow the Labor Law of China," said the statement.
A new employee working at Foxconn's Shenzhen plant requiring anonymity disagreed, saying workers have to sign an agreement for "voluntary" overtime work, or they may lose the right to choose to work extra hours in the following months.
Many workers often work extra hours as their basic wages are close to the minimum wage required by local authorities, the worker said.
This June, CLW released a report saying that all workers for the Apple supplier have to work up to 180 extra hours every month, far exceeding the standard set by the Labor Law of China, which says workers should work no more than 36 hours extra a month.
Foxconn has been reappearing in headlines in the past few years over labor issues, including a high number of suicide cases.
Two weeks ago, Foxconn was forced to temporarily shut down its plant in Taiyuan, Shanxi Province, after a fight broke out between thousands of workers and security guards, leaving some 40 people injured.
Huang said that there is a care center in the factory where workers can talk with psychiatrists, but workers seldom go there for fear that what they say may be reported to authorities and risk losing their jobs.