When Chinese worker Wu Jun heard that her employer, the giant electronics assembly company Foxconn, had given employees landmark concessions her reaction was worry, not elation.
Wu, 23, is one of tens of thousands of migrants from the poor countryside who staff the production lines of Foxconn's plant in Longhua, in southern China, which spits out made-to-order products for Apple and other multinationals.
Foxconn's concessions, including cutting overtime for its 1.2 million mainland Chinese workers while promising compensation that protects them against losing income, were backed by Apple, which has faced criticism and media scrutiny for worker safety lapses and for using relatively low-paid employees to make high-cost phones, computers and other gadgets.
But at the Foxconn factory gates, many workers seemed unconvinced that their pay wouldn't be cut along with their hours. For some Chinese factory workers - who make much of their income from long hours of overtime - the idea of less work for the same pay could take getting used to.
Wu, a 23-year-old employee from Hunan province in south China said.
"We are worried we will have less money to spend. Of course, if we work less overtime, it would mean less money."
Foxconn said it will reduce working hours to 49 per week, including overtime.
Chen Yamei, 25, a Foxconn worker from Hunan who said she had worked at the factory for four years said.
"We are here to work and not to play, so our income is very important."
Chen said she now earned a bit over 4,000 yuan a month ($634) and added.
"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."
Foxconn is one the biggest employers of China's 153 million rural migrants working outside their hometowns. Compared to smaller, mainland-owned factories, workers said, its vast plants are cleaner and safer, and offer more recreation sites.
But even so, for most employees at the Foxconn plant in Longhua, a part of Guangdong province's vast industrial sprawl, life is dominated by the repetitive routine of the production line.
Outside the Foxconn plant, off-duty employees crowded a small shopping mall. Their tightly packed apartment blocks are hemmed by hair salons, snack stores, gaming arcades and Internet "bars", where many while away leisure hours by playing computer games or watching Korean and Hong Kong soap operas.
Huang Hai, a 21-year-old man who said he had worked at Foxconn's factory for about two years said.
"I don't go out that much as there is nothing much to do. I do go out for a meal once in a while. This is a good company to work for because the working conditions are better than a lot of other small factories."
Huang was waiting for a friend lined up outside the recruitment centre for prospective Foxconn employees.
"I didn't like my first job at Foxconn because it was very repetitive. It was mainly manual work and I had to hammer nails everyday. Now it's better because I work with computers."
COMMENTARY: It's very difficult to separate fact from fiction after reading the above quotes from Foxconn workers, because Foxconn has been known to fire employees who spoke negatively about the company, criticized working conditions in the press or demonstrated against the company in the past.
This still does not explain the 13 Foxconn plant suicides that occurred since 2010 and two separate plant explositions due to dangerous chemicals that killed nearly a dozen plant workers and injured hundreds more, and reports by China's environmental protection agency that Foxconn and numerous other Chinese plants are not properly disposing of chemical wastes and have created an environmental pollution hazzard on a massive scale.
One needs to understand that Chinese factory workers like those at Foxconn are from China's countryside where the people work long hours in the fields growing rice and vegetables, are very poor and not very well educated. Many are willing to tolerate sweat shop working conditions and make about $3.00 a day to help their poor families back home. To these workers, working at a company like Foxconn is a welcome change.
The fact is abundantly clear that Apple has been very slow in responding to the sweat shop working conditions of Foxconn and other Chinese manufacturers. In two recent blog posts dated March 30, 2012, I reported on former Apple CEO Steve Jobs comments about Foxconn during an interview in 2010, and March 29 2012, I reported on Apple CEO Tim Cook's recent visit to Foxconn's plant in China. Tim Cook wanted to meet with Foxconn officials and observe firsthand the changes that Foxconn has made to improve plant working conditions, worker pay and benefits, improve plant safety, dispose of hazardous wastes and comply with Apple's Code of Suppliers. This was mostly a publicity visit, to show that Apple cares about the plant workers of many of its outsourced suppliers in China and to appease the press.
Courtesy of an article dated March 30, 2012 appearing in Reuters