CHINESE WORKERS are flexing their muscles over rising prices and again, the focus is on Foxconn, where so many of the world’s iPhones and iPads are made.
Foxconn, the manufacturing giant owned by Taiwanese tycoon Teddy Goh, which makes electronics for companies including Apple, Hewlett-Packard and Dell, said the protest had taken place at its plant in Wuhan on January 4th.
Up to 150 employees had gathered on the roof of a building and fire engines had assembled below.
“China is the country in the world which is richest in human labour,” wrote one person on the internet. “The availability of cheap labour contributed to the development of many businesses. And the growth of knowledge, rising prices.”
In the past couple of years, there have been more than a dozen suicide attempts at the southern China factory, with at least 10 deaths, mostly by jumping off dormitory buildings.
Shenzhen, and other factory towns, are transfixed by the deaths, which have opened up a wider discussion about the human cost of breakneck economic growth.
This particular face-off was resolved by the mayor of Wuhan, local media reported, who told them to leave the roof at 9pm after hours of negotiation.
Rising inflation is causing problems in the manufacturing sector, and the Foxconn workers had threatened to throw themselves off the roof of the factory where they make X-Box 360 video games, demanding better working conditions.
The Foxconn deal involved a month’s wages as severance pay. Any staff who chose to quit and take compensation allegedly found out a day later that Foxconn bosses had changed their mind, leaving the departing employees out of work and out of pocket – thus prompting them to hold the protest.
Foxconn employs 1.2 million people and has about 10,000 robots. It has said it wants become more automated as time goes by – the general trend in Foxconn is towards machines and away from people.
Foxconn chiefs say robots will also help to dampen rising wage costs, as inflation in China means pay demands are surging.
By some assessments, robots can do about 50 per cent of the jobs currently carried out by the employees, many of them young people from China’s provinces.
Moving up the manufacturing value scale is a big obsession in China these days, as the world’s fastest-growing major economy tries to transform itself from a low-cost manufacturing hub into an innovation centre, with biotech and IT sectors.