Nicknamed Hunter, a 34-year-old man who used to work at a Foxconn factory in Zhengzhou, China, recently shared with the non-profit publication Rest of World about his insights and feelings when working in an iPhone assembly plant.
Hunter says he’s worked in multiple positions at the factory over the past decade, and his last job was on the iPhone 14 Pro assembly line last year. His daily task is to pick up the back cover of the iPhone and a cable to charge the battery, scan their QR code, peel off the adhesive tape on the back, and connect the two by tightening two screws. He then places the unfinished phone on the conveyor belt to transport it to the next station.
Hunter must complete this quest once every minute. During a typical 10-hour shift, his goal is to attach 600 cables to 600 iPhone covers, using 1,200 screws. Every day, there will be 600 more unassembled iPhones waiting for him at the factory.
The factory where he works has no windows, reeks of chlorine, and all workers must wear antistatic gowns and masks. Everyone only had an hour to take their lunch break, but it was strictly calculated. You will need to make up for lost time if you go to the bathroom or drink water. Behind the assembly line are supervisors or “line leaders” who will monitor workers’ progress on computers and regularly remind those who are working behind.
His impression of these people was his habit of constantly reprimanding people. He witnessed a co-worker get a pay cut for drinking too long, while another was scolded for only putting together 40 parts an hour while others were making 60.
Although they are rarely their target, he says the constant scolding feels like an insult. Many of his colleagues burst into tears from the stress.
Sometimes a worker, often a novice, decides they’ve had enough and shouts back at the supervisor. But such rebellions never end well. Hunter said disobedient workers would be fired on the spot or banned from working overtime, a move that would leave them with no reason to stay at the factory.
Despite occasional threats of violence, conflicts rarely turn violent, says Hunter, probably because both workers and supervisors are aware of the ubiquitous surveillance cameras. But one day, after lunch, he spotted a police car parked outside the building. He recalled that a colleague had previously said that a disgruntled female employee had just been fired for poking the team leader in the face with a screw gun. Hunter then noticed the wound on the manager’s body.
“Some supervisors can’t live a day without yelling at everyone”, he said, and said he hates the humiliation and tediousness of work on the production line. But he, like everyone else, had to grit his teeth because the high salary was paid.
According to the report, if the new hires work 10-hour shifts six days a week, they can earn more than 10,000 yuan per month, the equivalent of $1,474.
Foxconn and Apple did not respond to requests for this story.
Foxconn’s complex in Zhengzhou produces about half of the world’s iPhones. Nicknamed “iPhone City,” it covers an area of 5.6 square kilometers and will, at full capacity, employ around 200,000 workers.
Key partner Apple runs its business on the basis of just-in-time production, meaning it doesn’t stockpile a lot of products, but only makes iPhones when consumers order them. As a result, the busiest season for factories begins around September or October, when Apple releases new iPhone models, and will last through the year-end holiday season until the Lunar New Year, which falls in January or February next year.
As global demand for new phones soars, Foxconn offers wages and bonuses much higher than those of other popular jobs to ensure their assembly lines can run at full speed. Workers, including rural migrants and university students, often take on this heavy workload, accepting holidays and following a tight work schedule to stay fit. claim bonus at the end of the month.
“It was hard to make a living elsewhere, so we went to the factory.”another Foxconn worker who is responsible for assembling iPhone back cases and requested anonymity told Rest of World in December. A former chef, he said he had to live off credit card debt. after a restaurant he invested in was closed. “We have no choice but to work for a high salary at Foxconn.”I said.
Between 2011 and 2022, Hunter occasionally left the company to work at other Apple assemblers in southern China, as well as get married and run a fast food restaurant. Sometimes, he quits just because he hates a particular task assigned to him. However, because both other jobs and his marriage were unstable, he always returned to Foxconn, where he could earn a living while being able to be close to his family.
Hunter said that as the plant neared its production target, his superiors would start asking him to take a 10-minute break every afternoon. On December 25 of last year, for the first time that month, his manager asked him to take a day off. That day, he spent several hours playing League of Legends at an internet cafe.
At 5 pm on January 3, after tightening nearly 800 screws that day, he resigned. “I won’t come tomorrow”he told his supervisor.
“Alright”, that was the manager’s reply that he remembered. Hunter then happily walks out of the workshop and realizes that: “Finally, I’m free.”
Unlike Hunter, some Foxconn workers have a more positive view of the work they are doing. Che, a student, said that although she is also looking forward to ending her two-month contract, it is not harder than any previous job, she used to work as a noodle salesman. instant food and hotel reception. “If it’s as bad as they say, why do they keep coming here?” she said of her colleagues. “There is no easy way to make money. If you intend to make money from someone, you have to work on their request.”
Jenny Chan, a sociologist at Hong Kong Polytechnic University who has studied labor issues at Foxconn since 2010, says working conditions at the company are not the worst in China. but they still show the precarious life of production workers. They are employed or fired after the ups and downs of the global electronics market and are left with little skills or career prospects.
“Foxconn never set out to have a stable workforce of origin, social ties, solidarity or bargaining power. They are always changing, changing and changing.” Chan told Rest of World. “These workers will have no path to advancement or share in the prosperity of the company’s growth.”
On January 9, Hunter left the factory to return to his homeland. He said he hopes not to have to go back to Foxconn to assemble the next iPhone series. But he himself cannot be “absolutely certain” of that.
Reference RestOfWorld, BI