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Summary:

Though Foxconn has agreed to bring its working hours policies into line with Chinese law after a high-profile audit, not all of its workers are cheering the news. Some employees say Foxconn’s pledge to reduce hours will reduce their pay, and they’re not happy about it.

Credit: Bowen Liu/Apple Inc. via Bloomberg
photo: 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.

  1. ” For example, some of these workers stand for so long at their job their legs swell, as the New York Times reported. ”

    Really? That’s a problem? Uhm…let’s send the NYT journos to every single diner on the roads in the US (and most other countries with extensive road networks) and have them talk with the waitstaff there…I bet they all suffer the same bad problem…let’s next do a feature on the awful working conditions of the american waitress!

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    1. Yep – If one really looks, the conditions here in the U.S. in certain fields aren’t any worse. But, americans don’t seem to be good at looking in their own mirrors and try to push standards we don’t even have here onto others. Tiring!

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  2. You don’t even have to leave the Bay Area. I’ve been involved in electronics manufacturing in Silicon Valley for 30 odd years. In boom times it isn’t unusual for folks to work round the week and 10+ hour days. With much of US industrial manufacturing moving to “right to work” (read non-union) states in the south, I would suspect that plants for successful companies out there are much the same. Factory work is drudge and hasn’t changed much since Henry Ford started the assembly line. Having been in factories in China and southeast Asia, for the people there it sure beats any alternatives they have. Given the choice of picking cotton or standing there screwing lugnuts onto cars all day, a whole lot folks folks made their choice.
    Besides Foxconn, there are tons of little mom and pop shops in China (just as in the US). Folks working there would give anything to get into a nice clean and organized Foxconn (or other major) plant.

    A natural cycle exists. Folks in Kentucky got tired of picking tobacco and moved north to factory jobs. After the initial influx, the factories had to pay more and more to keep the workers. So eventually they moved the factories back down to Kentucky. Where eventually the workers will cost more and economically depressed Detroit will look like a low cost labor region. As long as we want $400 TV’s from WalMart, and Wall Street wants continuous margin growth, manufacturing will move around looking for the most economical base. Singapore priced itself out of the manufacturing market 15 years ago. Now they are a base for expertise for people setting up factories in cheaper places nearby. Shenzen isn’t far behind the same thing. It’s crowded and getting expensive. Companies are moving to Guang Dong and further inland. Leveraging on the experienced engineers and operators in Shenzen to make it work. And being closer to a rural labor base that would rather stand at a nice clean table all day then stand behind a water buffalo all day.

    I’m not a fan of the greedy mentality that drives this, but it is today’s reality.

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