The recent riots at Foxconn factory in northern China that left 40 people injured and impacted nearly 2,000 workers reflect the sagging morale of the Chinese factory workers, who appear to be stressed out on realizing a few benefits against nurturing high expectations of better conditions and guarantees.
Many reports aver that factory riots that halted production Sept. 24 are bound to recur as Chinese factory workers are more aware of their rights than any other workforce and frustrated by absence of institutions that could lobby for them, the New Yorker has reported.
Similar instances of riots reported in March, following heavy-handed treatment at the hands of the security, long hours and strict personal and work regulations imposed by management. Photos on social media sites showed broken factory windows and overturned guard stations and police cars.
A probe by the U.S. Fair Labor Association showed "serious and pressing concerns," where employees at a Foxconn plant were working long hours and were not paid overtime, the Washington Post stated, adding that the employees would often go without time off and work as much as 70 hours a week.
Besides, the workers were required to do precision work in quick repetition, which discouraged them from communication thereby resulting in a "spiritual emptiness."
“Such riots have become in some ways inevitable,” Liu Kaiming, a labor expert in Shenzhen (China’s manufacturing hub), told the Washington Post, adding: “It’s no longer simply a matter of raising the wages.”
In recent years, Foxconn has drawn attention owing to its connection with Apple and the increasingly visible signs of unhappiness among the workers. In 2010, several employee suicides pushed the company to adopt preventive measures against such radical decisions. Pressure from clients, especially Apple, which found itself under fire after such reports, also led to rise in wages and adoption of minor steps.
“This sort of circumstance is bound to lead to eruption of certain issues in other factories of Foxconn sooner or later,” Liu Kiaming told the Washington Post.
The rapid industrialization in China has left the average wages of factory workers much behind their productivity levels. The problem is compounded with even lower wages reported in the agriculture sector. It’s a situation that has worked to the advantage of the factory owners that is also resulting in instances of labor unrest.
Tensions continue to swell in several Foxconn plants, where shipping contracts are due and management seeks longer working days.
At present, China continues to have the same party-sponsored national trade union it has had for 60 years, even as economy and population have transformed. If Beijing is to avoid riots in months and years ahead, it needs to stop seeing the current riots as a corporate issue and start viewing it as a national issue that deserves serious attention and remedial measures.