Scores of workers at the Foxconn factory in Wuhan, China, threatened mass suicide during a protest last week.
Foxconn - which makes a good chunk of the world's tech gear - said that the dispute began after staff were told they would be transferred to another business unit due to a shift in production lines. The electronics manufacturing goliath said that 45 employees decided to voluntarily resign while the rest opted to keep their jobs.
However, a report in Taiwanese newspaper Want China Times alleged that it was instead a pay dispute that led to 300 workers threatening to jump from the top of a factory's roof.
The paper claimed that Foxconn had refused to give employees a rise on 2 January and told workers that they could leave, if they wished, with a month's wages as severance pay. Staff who chose to quit and take compensation allegedly found out a day later that Foxconn bosses had changed their mind, leaving the departing employees out of work and out of pocket – prompting them to hold the protest. Photos of the demonstration can be found on Weibo.
The angry workers were only persuaded to back down from their suicide threat by the Major of Wuhan, who told them to leave the roof at 9pm after hours of negotiation, according to the newspaper accounts.
"The incident was successfully and peacefully resolved later that morning after discussions between the workers, local Foxconn officials and representatives from the local government," the company said in a canned statement.
According to the Chinese news site RecordChina, the Foxconn factory, located in the capital of Hubei province, makes Xbox parts for Microsoft; the walk-out caused the production of the XBox 360 to be suspended for several hours, it is understood.
Microsoft has yet to confirm which products are manufactured in the plant, although it did send the Reg this statement:
Microsoft takes working conditions in the factories that manufacture its products very seriously, and we are currently investigating this issue. We have a stringent Vendor Code of Conduct that spells out our expectations, and we monitor working conditions closely on an ongoing basis and address issues as they emerge. Microsoft is committed to the fair treatment and safety of workers employed by our vendors, and to ensuring conformance with Microsoft policy.
There are various accounts of the suicide threat: Record China suggests that only 100 people took part in the threatened death jump. Complaints levelled against Foxconn over the years include long hours, low pay and poor working conditions.
However Foxconn stressed in a statement to the Reg that the welfare of its workers is paramount:
We can confirm that early in the morning on 4 January, approximately 150 employees at our Wuhan campus staged a workplace incident following the communication to them of our company’s decision to transfer all employees in their business unit to another business unit within that campus due to a shift in production lines. The incident was successfully and peacefully resolved later that morning after discussions between the workers, local Foxconn officials and representatives from the local government, including the labor department. As part of the agreement between Foxconn and the employees in question, 45 of those employees chose to resign from the company under the terms of a voluntary resignation agreement and the remaining employees chose to remain as Foxconn employees.
The welfare of our employees is our top priority and we are committed to ensuring that all employees are treated fairly and that their rights are fully protected. The operational changes that were the basis for this incident are being carried out in accordance with all relevant laws and regulations.