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Apple news: Workers' rights the focus again

Another flare-up hits a Chinese high-tech factory.

Three young workers from Wintek's factory in Dongguan, China. Employees there said they heard rumors about unusual deaths at the Suzhou factory, and many were worried about their own health. (Sharron Lovell/GlobalPost)

BEIJING, China — Workers at a Chinese factory believed to make electronic components for tech giants like Apple and Nokia are back on the job after a violent strike to protest what they believe was deadly on-the-job exposure to toxic chemicals.

According to accounts from employees and Chinese state-run media, about 2,000 of the 10,000 employees at Wintek’s Suzhou-based factory staged a violent walkout earlier this month when they heard their year-end bonuses has been eliminated.

Tensions at the plant, located about two hours from Shanghai, were simmering for months over the deaths of several workers last summer. Protesters said they believe four co-workers died from exposure to a toxic chemical, hexane, used in LED screen production. Angry strikers vandalized factory equipment and riot police were called in.

“The truth has been hidden from public view. There are people dying from long-term exposure to the (toxin) used in the factory but no one is paying attention to that. There needs to be further investigation,” the official China Daily newspaper quoted a worker surnamed Zhu, who took part in the protest, as saying.

Neither Wintek, which is based in Taiwan, nor Apple, responded to requests for comment. Labor and tech groups say the factory makes touch screens for Apple products, including the iPhone.

China Daily reported that during a local government press conference on the matter, officials said there were no reports of unnatural deaths at the factory. They also said more than 40 factory workers suffered from chemical exposure and were treated and released.

In a written press release, Wintek did not address the chemical poisoning allegations but said workers were mistaken that their bonuses had been canceled. The bonuses will be issued at Chinese New Year in February, not in December, it said.

“Following discussions between the company and employees that were held with the assistance of (the) local government, the issue was settled and there was no effect on production capacity or production line operations,” the company said.

In a five-part series, GlobalPost last year investigated and exposed widespread labor abuses within the Taiwan-based Wintek, chronicling the company’s long history with questionable labor practices in China and elsewhere.