After audit, some Foxconn workers bristle at fewer hours

Credit: Bowen Liu/Apple Inc. via Bloomberg

Apple CEO Tim Cook at Foxconn this week. (Credit: Bowen Liu/Apple Inc. via Bloomberg)

Though Foxconn has agreed to bring its working and overtime hours policies into line with Chinese law after an audit by the Fair Labor Association, not all workers at the electronics manufacturing giant are cheering the news. Some employees say Foxconn’s pledge to reduce hours will reduce their pay, and they’re not happy about it.

Here’s what one Foxconn employee told Reuters:

“We are here to work and not to play, so our income is very important,” said Chen Yamei, 25, a Foxconn worker from Hunan who said she had worked at the factory for four years.

“We have just been told that we can only work a maximum of 36 hours a month of overtime. I tell you, a lot of us are unhappy with this. We think that 60 hours of overtime a month would be reasonable and that 36 hours would be too little,” she added. Chen said she now earned a bit over 4,000 yuan a month ($634).

Foxconn factories were audited by the FLA at the request of Apple, its biggest and most important customer, who has come under fire for the conditions under which Foxconn’s 1.2 million employees work — though many other major electronics brands are also produced by Foxconn. The FLA’s report on three Foxconn plants, released Thursday, showed numerous violations of Chinese safety and labor laws. Violations included not paying workers proper overtime, working employees more than 60 hours a week (49 is the legal limit) and up to 80 hours of overtime (36 is legal). Some even worked nonstop for more than seven days, without the required day off in between.

These conditions, as detailed in previous Apple audits and a New York Times investigation, are objectively harsh. Of course some Foxconn workers — typically migrants from poor rural areas who come to Foxconn to live and work and make as much money as they can — do prefer to work as much as possible, like Yamei.

But it doesn’t mean there aren’t physical consequences. For example, some of these workers stand for so long at their job their legs swell, as the New York Times reported. While some may take extra hours because they’d otherwise get fired, others may be willing to push themselves as far as they can go physically if their chief concern is being able to support themselves and their families. Still, just because some are willing, it doesn’t mean repetitive tasks in a sometimes-unsafe environment should not be regulated for millions of other employees.

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