The employee departures come amid concerns about Apple’s ability to deliver products for the busy holiday period.
More than 20,000 workers, mostly new hires, at Apple supplier Foxconn’s massive Chinese plant are not yet working on production lines, a Foxconn source familiar with the matter told Reuters news agency on Friday.
The departures from the world’s biggest iPhone factory are a fresh blow to the Taiwanese company, which is battling strict COVID-19 restrictions that have fueled sales growth. Discontent among workers disrupted production before Christmas and the January Lunar New Year holiday.,
Concerns are growing over Apple’s ability to deliver products for the busy holiday period as worker unrest at the Zhengzhou plant, which produces the US company’s popular iPhone 14 models, continues.
The source said the departures would complicate Foxconn’s goal of resuming full production by the end of November after the sometimes violent unrest.
Foxconn, formally known as Hon Hai Precision Industry Co., declined to comment. Apple, which said Thursday it had workers at the factory, declined to comment Friday.
In a rare case of open-ended dissent in China, employees have complained about sharing dormitories with colleagues who tested positive for COVID. They claim they were misled about compensation benefits at the factory, which accounts for 70 percent of global iPhone shipments.
Foxconn on Thursday offered 10,000 yuan ($1,400) to protesting recruits who agreed to resign and leave the plant.
The company apologized for a “technical error” related to pay during hiring, which workers say was the cause of the protests involving clashes with security personnel.
Videos posted on Chinese social media on Friday showed crowds and long lines of workers laden with luggage queuing for buses. One person posted, “It’s time to go home.”
Another Foxconn source familiar with the matter said some freshmen had left the campus, but did not say how many. This person said the departures had no impact on current production, as new employees were still required to take training courses before working online.
“The incident has a big impact on our public image but little impact on our (current) capability. Our current capability has not been affected.”
“There is only so much corporate can do on pandemic prevention… It is going to be a problem for some time. This is the problem everyone is facing,” the person said, pointing to other worker unrest triggered by harsher COVID restrictions, including turmoil at another Apple supplier, Quanta, in May.
The unrest at the Foxconn plant comes as China grapples with a record number of COVID infections and grapples with an increasing lockdown that has raised frustration among citizens across the country. It has also exposed communication problems and distrust of Foxconn management among some employees.
Foxconn launched a hiring drive this month, promising bonuses and higher pay after COVID restrictions are put in place in October. The restrictions forced the company to put many employees into isolation, causing many to flee.