If Labor Conditions in China are Tough, Why are Thousands Lining up for Jobs at Foxconn?

If you’ve been watching technology news regularly, you’d be aware that China’s rise as the gadget manufacturing capital of the world is one of the hotter topics last week. The New York Times brought up the discussion in a feature that highlighted how China has edged out the U.S. in terms of middle-class manufacturing jobs. Meanwhile, another feature showed the other side of manufacturing in China — one that involves poor labor conditions and workplace hazards.

Thousands line up to apply for work at Foxconn's Zhengzhou facility. The company is doubling its capacity in this plant from the current 200,000 iPhone units per day. (CUTV / MIC Gadget)

But if working conditions in China are tough, then why are people lining up by the thousands to apply for work at a Foxconn facility in Zhengzhou? MIC Gadget narrates how thousands of applicants stood in line for hours outside a labor agency for Foxconn in Zhengzhou in the hopes of landing a job here. Lines reportedly stretched more than 200 meters along the road (about 220 yards), and applicants waited it out until late at night.


Applicants were mostly attracted by the Zhengzhou government’s advertisements of job positions, which start with a monthly salary of 1,650 yuan (US$ 261), and can increase to 2,400 to 3,200 yuan (US$ 379 to 506) after appraisal. This is notably higher than Shenzhen’s minimum wage of 1,500 yuan (US$ 238) and 1,260 yuan (US$ 200) in Beijing.

The minimum wage in Zhengzhou used to be 800 yuan monthly (US$ 127), but Foxconn seems to have raised the bar in terms of compensation. “Foxconn’s arrival apparently raised Zhengzhou’s average salary,” said a human resources official connected with a local company.

The minimum wage at Foxconn elsewhere is actually 1,200 yuan (US$ 190) monthly. Additionally, Foxconn already incorporates food and lodging allowances in its basic salary, so employees don’t have to spend for housing and food.

Foxconn’s Zhengzhou facility, which opened in 2010, currently employs about 130,000 personnel, and has an output of 200,000 iPhone units per day. The company is reportedly doubling its workforce in this facility to increase manufacturing capacity, which is estimated to likewise increase output twofold. Some of the applicants were reportedly existing workers from other Foxconn plants looking to transfer closer to home. “Working in southern China is too far away from home. I could only go home once a year,” says one applicant currently working in southern China.

Best Place to Work in China?

But amid the increasing salary standards, MIC Gadget still calls it a “hell factory” where people still look to work “no matter how poor the working conditions are.” So why are people lining up in droves for a job there?

We suppose that “poor working conditions” are subjective, especially given that a US$ 506 monthly salary at a Foxconn plant — plus benefits — is considered to be higher than in other industries, even for college graduates.

“[I]t seems that employment at the company is still an attractive prospect for young Chinese job-seekers,” amid allegations of poor working conditions at Foxconn, shares ZDNet‘s Hana-Stewart-Smith.  Canadian Business‘ business ethics blogger Peter Nowak says it’s a matter of perspective. Foxconn employees earn almost twice the typical worker and 18% higher than the national average.

And so, perhaps to answer my own question, I suppose thousands flock to Foxconn to apply for work because labor conditions are tougher elsewhere.