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Violent protests erupt at iPhone factory in Zhengzhou amid pay complaints and COVID-19 containment measures

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Hundreds of workers joined protests at Foxconn’s flagship iPhone plant in China, with some men smashing surveillance cameras and windows, footage uploaded on social media showed.

The rare scenes of open dissent in China mark an escalation of unrest at the massive factory in Zhengzhou city that has come to symbolize a dangerous build-up in frustration with the country’s ultra-harsh COVID-19 rules, as well as inept handling of the situation by the world’s largest contract manufacturer.

The trigger for the protests, which began early on Wednesday, appeared to be a plan to delay bonus payments, many of the demonstrators said on livestream feeds. The videos could not be immediately verified by Reuters.

“Give us our pay!” chanted workers who were surrounded by people in full hazmat suits, some carrying batons, according to footage from one video.

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Other footage showed tear gas being deployed and workers taking down quarantine barriers.

Unrest at the Foxconn facility began in October when, after numerous outbreaks of COVID-19, the facility implemented a “closed loop system” whereby staff were forced to live and work at the facility, without any contact with the outside world.

Prior to the unrest, the facility employed 200,000 people, but many of them fled once the closed loop system began, forcing the company to try to quickly recruit new workers to maintain their production targets. Staff are reportedly forced to sleep in on-site dormitories next to workers infected with COVID-19.

In the videos, workers vented about how they were never sure if they would get meals while in quarantine, or over inadequate curbs to contain an outbreak.

“Foxconn never treats humans as humans,” said one person.

Many reasons for unrest

Those protests escalated this week into complaints over compensation, new employee Li Sanshan told The Associated Press.

Li said he quit a catering job in response to advertising that promised 25,000 yuan (about $3,500 US) for two months of work. Li, 28, said workers were angry after discovering they first had to work two additional months at lower pay before they would receive the 25,000 yuan.

“Foxconn released very tempting recruiting offers, and workers from all parts of the country came, only to find they were being made fools of,” Li said.

Experts say the protests at the facility have become a flashpoint for broader unrest.

 

China doubles down on ‘zero COVID’ policy as cases skyrocket

 

Beijing reported the first COVID deaths in months as case numbers surge throughout the country. But despite the rising economic and political costs of China’s controversial ‘zero COVID’ lockdowns and quarantines, officials may see no alternative.

“It’s now evident that closed-loop production in Foxconn only helps in preventing COVID from spreading to the city, but does nothing (if not make it even worse) for the workers in the factory,” Aiden Chau of China Labour Bulletin, a Hong Kong-based advocacy group, said in an email.

‘Pockets of unrest’

Jia Wang, the interim director of the China Institute at the University of Alberta, says China is facing a labour crunch, and workers at the Foxconn factory and elsewhere know it.

“COVID has definitely made things more difficult in a closed loop system,” she told CBC News in an interview. “The workers are holding all the cards right now.”

Wang says it is shocking for outsiders to witness scenes of protest like that coming out of China, but the reality is that on any given day in the country, there could be hundreds of protests happening in the country that outsiders don’t hear about because the regime is able to control a lot of the information flow.

“There’s probably lot of little pockets of unrest going on all the time.”

Foxconn said in a statement it had fulfilled its payment contracts and that reports of infected staff living on campus with new recruits were “untrue.”

“Regarding any violence, the company will continue to communicate with employees and the government to prevent similar incidents from happening again,” the company said.

Number and severity of outbreaks on the rise

Foxconn is a key supplier for Apple, manufacturing approximately 70 per cent of the company’s iPhones. The Zhengzhou plant is the largest single maker of the devices, although Foxconn has other facilities in China, Taiwan and India.

Security personnel in protective clothing appear to attack a protester during a protest at the Foxconn factory in Zhengzhou, China. Among other things, the facility is the world’s largest single manufacturer of iPhones. (The Associated Press)

Protests have flared as the number and severity of outbreaks has risen across China, prompting authorities in areas including Beijing, the capital, to close neighbourhoods and impose other restrictions that residents say go beyond what the national government allows.

More than 253,000 cases have been found in the past three weeks and the daily average is increasing, the government reported Tuesday. This week, authorities reported China’s first COVID-19 deaths in six months.

On Wednesday, the government reported 28,883 cases found over the past 24 hours, including 26,242 with no symptoms. Henan province, of which Zhengzhou is the capital, reported 851 in total.

The government will enforce its anti-COVID-19 policy while “resolutely overcoming the mindset of paralysis and laxity,” said a spokesperson for the National Health Commission, Mi Feng.

The city government of Guangzhou, the site of the biggest outbreaks, announced it opened 19 temporary hospitals with a total of almost 70,000 beds for coronavirus patients. The city announced plans last week to build hospital and quarantine facilities for 250,000 people.

Also on Wednesday, Beijing opened a hospital in an exhibition centre and suspended access to Beijing International Studies University after a virus case was found there. The capital earlier closed shopping malls and office buildings and suspended access to some apartment compounds.

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Keystone pipeline temporarily closed following Kansas oil spill – Al Jazeera English

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The energy company in charge of the pipeline has not said what caused the spill or how much oil was released.

The Keystone pipeline has halted operations following an oil spill into a creek in the United States state of Kansas. The pipeline carries more than 600,000 barrels of oil from Canada to the Texas Gulf Coast each day.

Canada-based TC Energy said in a press release that it shut down the pipeline on Wednesday night in response to a drop in pipeline pressure. The company has yet to offer information on the scale and cause of the spill.

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“The system remains shut down as our crews actively respond and work to contain and recover the oil,” the release said.

The spill resulted in oil leaking into a creek in northeastern Kansas and the company has said they were using machinery to prevent the oil from moving further downstream. Pipelines have long spurred concerns about the destructive potential of oil spills.

Another pipeline previously proposed by TC, the Keystone XL pipeline, would have been 1,930 kilometres (1,200 miles) long and cut across US states such as Montana, South Dakota and Nebraska.

That proposal spurred strong opposition from advocates who said it would increase the chance of spills, undermine the rights of Indigenous communities and worsen climate change.

Former President Donald Trump approved a permit for the contentious project in 2017 but a court halted construction in 2018 before the permit was cancelled by President Joe Biden’s administration last year.

TC finally abandoned the effort in June 2021 but has since filed a claim seeking remuneration for losses it says it faced because of the cancellation.

The spill on Wednesday occurred several years after the Keystone pipeline leaked about 1.4m litres (383,000 gallons) of oil in eastern North Dakota in 2019.

As word of the shutdown spread on Wednesday, oil prices ticked upwards by about five percent.

“It’s something to keep an eye on, but not necessarily an immediate impact for now,” said Patrick De Haan, head of petroleum analysis at GasBuddy, which tracks gasoline prices, according to the Associated Press. “It could eventually impact oil supplies to refiners, which could be severe if it lasts more than a few days.”

In their statement, Keystone said their primary focus was the “health and safety of onsite staff and personnel, the surrounding community, and mitigating risk to the environment through the deployment of booms downstream as we work to contain and prevent further migration of the release”.

Previous Keystone spills have resulted in stoppages that lasted up to two weeks. However, analysts have noted that the current stoppage could possibly last longer because it involves a body of water.

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Bank of Canada policy will ‘hit home’ in 2023: David Rosenberg

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The Bank of Canada may be signalling a possible end to its months-long aggressive interest-rate hike cycle, but economist David Rosenberg said next year will see the lagging impact of 2022’s monetary policy “hit home” for Canadians.

“Next year is the payback,” Rosenberg, chief economist and strategist at Rosenberg Research and Associates Inc., said in an interview with BNN Bloomberg.

“2022 was the year of the sharp run-up in rates, 2023 will be the year where the policy lags from those rising rates hit home.”

He made the comments Thursday, a day after the Bank of Canada raised its overnight lending rate by 50 basis points to 4.25 per cent, as the central bank continued with its approach to bringing down inflation.

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Rosenberg predicted a “severe recession” for Canada next year based on the rate hike cycle, calling for a “triple whammy” with economic impacts compounded by high levels of household debt, a housing bubble and ripples in the global economy.

Possible spillover effects from the interest rate cycle could be felt, Rosenberg said, as banks may constrain the availability of credit and spending drops across various sectors.

Based on the latest rate increase, Rosenberg said he predicts at potentially one more rate hike from the bank before a pause. Once inflation starts to come down, Rosenberg said he thinks the central bank may start to cut rates, possibly in the second half of 2023.

“The next stage is going to be waiting for the inflation to come down, which I think it will, and the recession is going to catch a lot of people by surprise,” he said.

A similar pattern may play out in the U.S., but Rosenberg said Canadians are more exposed to higher interest rates through variable-rate mortgages and because more consumer credit is tied to short-term interest rates.

“As bad as it’s going to be in the U.S., and believe me, it’s not going to be a pretty picture there, I think the Canadian situation in the next year is going to be clouded at best,” he said.

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CRTC rejects Telus’ request to charge credit card processing fee for some services

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The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission ruled Thursday that Telus is not able to charge a credit card processing fee for regulated home telephone services.

This ruling applies to Alberta and B.C. services that are regulated by the CRTC, which are generally home telephone services in certain smaller communities.

Since Oct. 6, most Canadian businesses, except in Quebec, can charge their customers a fee for credit card transactions, following a class-action lawsuit filed by retailers against Visa, MasterCard and card-issuing banks.

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Quebec is not included in this decision due to the province’s Consumer Protection Act, which prohibits the application of such surcharges.

On Aug. 8, Telus filed an application with the CRTC to introduce a credit card processing fee of 1.5 per cent, plus taxes, for payments made with a credit card.

On. Oct. 17, Telus began to charge the fee to clients paying by credit card in areas where services are not regulated by the CRTC, which includes its wireless and internet customers outside of Quebec.

Telus does not need to ask for the CRTC’s approval to add the surcharge to its unregulated services but the organization said it is “very concerned” about this practice as it goes against affordability and consumer interest.

“We heard Canadians loud and clear: close to 4,000 of you told us that you should not be subjected to an additional fee based on the method you choose to pay your bill,” Ian Scott, chairperson and CEO of the CRTC, said in a statement. “We expect the telecommunications industry to treat Canadians with respect and do better.”

The CRTC said, with this ruling, it is sending a “clear message” to Telus and other telecommunications service providers that are thinking of imposing a fee like this one on their customers.

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