AROUND 150 Chinese workers at Foxconn, the world's largest electronics manufacturer, threatened to commit suicide by leaping from their factory roof in protest at their working conditions.
The workers were eventually coaxed down after two days on top of their three-floor plant in Wuhan by Foxconn managers and local Chinese Communist party officials.
Foxconn, which manufactures gadgets for the likes of Apple, Sony, Nintendo and HP, among many others, has had a grim history of suicides at its factories. A suicide cluster in 2010 saw 18 workers throw themselves from the tops of the company's buildings, with 14 deaths.
In the aftermath of the suicides, Foxconn installed safety nets in some of its factories and hired counsellors to help its workers.
The latest protest began on January 2 after managers decided to move around 600 workers to a new production line, making computer cases for Acer, a Taiwanese computer company.
"We were put to work without any training, and paid piecemeal," said one of the protesting workers, who asked not to be named. "The assembly line ran very fast and after just one morning we all had blisters and the skin on our hand was black. The factory was also really choked with dust and no one could bear it," he said.
Several reports from inside Foxconn factories have suggested that while the company is more advanced than many of its competitors, it is run in a "military" fashion that many workers cannot cope with. At Foxconn's flagship plant in Longhua, five per cent of its workers, or 24,000 people, quit every month.
"Because we could not cope, we went on strike," said the worker. "It was not about the money but because we felt we had no options. At first, the managers said anyone who wanted to quit could have one month's pay as compensation, but then they withdrew that offer. So we went to the roof and threatened a mass suicide".
The worker said that Foxconn initially refused to negotiate, but that the workers were treated reasonably by the local police and fire service.
A spokesman for Foxconn confirmed the protest, and said that the incident was "successfully and peacefully resolved after discussions between the workers, local Foxconn officials and representatives from the local government".
He added that 45 Foxconn employees had chosen to resign and the remainder had returned to work. "The welfare of our employees is our top priority and we are committed to ensuring that all employees are treated fairly," he said.