Chinese work conditions in the spotlight after mass suicide threat at Foxconn

Posted on 12 Jan 2012 by Jane Gray
Wuhan Foxconn

The technology manufacturing site in Wuhan province saw workers unite in a suicide pact on January 4 in response to bosses reneging on severance pay agreements.

The Foxconn factory employs around 1.2m people and manufactures products for Apple, Microsoft and Hewlett Packard among others. The site has become notorious for the high suicide rate of staff employed there. In December last year the Factory was attacked by TM’s Naked Engineer columnist for its poor working conditions.

One cause of this fresh labour relations dispute is said to follow the decision of senior management at the factory to backtrack on promises made to staff quitting the company that they would receive one month’s pay as a severance deal. On discovering that colleagues were to be left out of work and pocket around 150 Foxconn employees gathered on the factory roof and threatened to throw themselves to their deaths.

The local mayor intervened to persuade the workers to leave the roof but the resolution of the pay grievance remains unclear.

The departing staff had chosen to leave Foxconn in order to avoid transfer to another manufacturing site where working conditions were considered unbearable.

The likelihood of further labour relations issues for Foxconn in 2012 appears likely as the firm plans to significantly increase the use of automation on its production lines and cut staff as wage rates increase in China. The company already use around 10,000 robots but staff complain of low training for working with them.

Foxconn’s plans to automate reflect a national aim to move up the manufacturing value chain – a move which will alter the nature of both domestic and foreign manufacturing operations in China.