Lockdown in China: eat, wash, sleep in the factory


world mirror

Status: 05/29/2022 07:44 a.m

Production is running again in Shanghai’s companies – but those who work there are not allowed to leave the factory premises even after work. Thousands of employees are now staying overnight at work – for weeks and until further notice.

Von Tamara Anthony, ARD-Studio Peking

Some cardboard and a sleeping bag on it: Li Ge found a place to sleep between two treadmills. He does not want to give his real name. He works for the Apple supplier Quanta Computer Inc. in Shanghai – and needs the money. But since Covid broke out in the metropolis, he is no longer allowed to leave the premises at the end of the day. Work, eat, wash, sleep, all in the factory. Along with about two thousand other employees. For more than four weeks.

After all the conveyor belts in Shanghai’s factories initially stood still, production has been starting up again for a few weeks. More and more companies are getting an exemption from the government and are allowed to start working again. The condition, however, is that once you are on the factory premises, you must not leave it. All employees are locked in a so-called closed loop, in a bubble.

Corona lockdown in Shanghai: employees sleep in factories

Tamara Anthony, ARD Beijing, Weltspiegel 6:30 p.m., May 29, 2022

Two thirds foreign companies

Shanghai is the economic center of China, the gross domestic product of the metropolis is roughly equivalent to that of Belgium. If there is no production here, the effects can be felt worldwide. “Most of the approximately 4,000 companies that are allowed to work again have key functions or are essential suppliers in sectors such as automotive, mechanical engineering, chemicals or pharmaceuticals,” says Bettina Schön-Behanzin, Vice President of the European Chamber of Commerce in China. But most companies, she adds, can only continue to work with around 30 to 50 percent capacity.

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About a third of the companies in which the employees are now trapped are foreign companies. “According to our information, an exchange of personnel is currently not possible,” says Bettina Schön-Behanzin, who herself has been locked up in her apartment in Shanghai for more than ten weeks. “Once you’re in the factory, you’re in the factory. People are only allowed to leave the factory premises if they’re sick. You can imagine that of course there’s enormous mental pressure.”

Temporary sleeping quarters for the employees have been created on the Rheinmetall China factory premises.

Image: Rheinmetall China

“People don’t have to come”

Factory halls were converted into dormitories. In some cases there were huge tent camps. The companies organized washrooms, soap, toothpaste – while in Shanghai almost no cars are allowed to drive and all shops are closed. “A kind of competition took place as to who could buy the most sleeping bags and bedding the quickest,” says Peter Willemsen, President of Rheinmetall China.

The Chinese subsidiary of Rheinmetall produces car parts. Their works are scattered across the country. In Shanghai, only about 30 people are currently working in the “bubble”. At factories in other provinces, around 700 employees were locked inside the company’s premises during Covid outbreaks.

“We ask people whether they want to come or not. They don’t have to come,” says Peter Willemsen, President of Rheinmetall China. “There are some people who say: I can’t do that because I have family at home that I have to take care of. That’s okay and doesn’t lead to termination.”

Scuffle at Quanta Computer Inc.

However, for factory workers with simple jobs, the basic salary is often very low in China. Overtime and other supplements make the wages attractive in the first place. But overall, according to Willemsen from Rheinmetall China, it is crucial that the workers feel that they are an elementary part of the company: “They come because they say: This is important so that we can continue to be profitable and have a good future”.

Volkswagen, Beiersdorf, Henkel, Siemens Healthineers, Bosch and other German companies have now locked their workers in the factory to start producing again. But they all declined an interview.

At the Apple supplier Quanta Computer Inc., where Li Ge works, the workers finally rehearsed the uprising. After five weeks, many young people wanted to leave the factory premises – but were not allowed to. Riots and fisticuffs ensued. In the meantime, some have been allowed to go home. The other assembly line workers get triple the wages. The company did not respond to an interview request.

You can see more on this and other topics in Weltspiegel – at 6:30 p.m. in the first.

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