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iPad workers paid just $100/month in China sweatshops

Apple contractor Foxconn boosted wages but cut dormitory and cafeteria subsidies, a labor monitor found

Workers who make Apple iPads and iPhones at manufacturer Foxconn/Hon Hai Precision Industries Corp. in its suicide-prone China plants are still making around $100 a month, despite promised wage increases, because pay gains have been offset by the company's cancellation of dormitory and cafeteria allowances, reports a Hong Kong labor monitoring group, Students and Scholars Against Corporate Misbehavior (SACOM), in this report.

Foxconn has responded to public embarrassment at its low wages and tough working conditions by moving workers to new plants in lower-wage areas inland. Foxconn plans to cut employment at its plants in China's Shenzhen industrial heartland to 300,000 from the current 500,000 this year, as it adds plants in inland Chengdu and Chongqing.

SACOM says it interviewd 120 Foxconn workers at both old and new plants for its report. The group says it found routine forced and unpaid overtime, no meal break, lack of information on chemical hazards, underaged teenaged workers, mandatory night shift, no grievance system. Excerpts:

"Provincial governments compete with each other for Foxconn's investment by offering concessions to the company... With strong governmental support, the workforce in Foxconn has grown to 1 million, a predominant majority of its workforce is young peasant-workers from the countryside.

"At recruitment talks, Foxconn paints a whole new rosy picture: high wages and good prospects. It looks like Foxconn might have reflected deeply upon its military management and low-cost production strategy, which had driven workers to despair.

"A number of Foxconn's customers, notably Apple, HP and Dell, have also pledged to "work with Foxconn" to live up to higher international labour standards. A big question is how this hidden electronics supply chain really works. SACOM is interested to track the working conditions of the new Foxconn production sites to ascertain the workplace improvement in place, if any...

"While Apple commends the measures taken by Foxconn to improve working conditions, SACOM finds predicaments of workers remain:

"Workers always have excessive and forced overtime in order to gain a higher wage. Workers are exposed to dust from construction site and shop floor without adequate protection," and are often cheated of overtime pay.

A "typical dauy of a worker in Chengdu" starts at 7:15 PM when the bus leaves the dormintory for the 25-minute drive to the plant, and lasts til after the end of the work shift at 10:10 PM.

"When researchers asked about the feeling of Foxconn workers about the hardship of workers, like low wages, potential harm of occupational diseases, work pressure and exhaustion, the typical answer is "I get used to that...Workers feel it is helpless to bring changes...

"Foxconn has primary responsibility in labour rights abuses. The clients, including Apple and HP, which declare decent working conditions at their suppliers have indispensible obligations to put their promise into practice... Labour rights violations in Chengdu are the most problematic, Apple, the sole buyer of Chengdu plant, must take actions to improve working conditions at Foxconn." No immediate comment when I asked Apple to respond.