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Chinese Xbox workers threatened suicide over job transfers

The situation was defused but it highlights the growing labour unrest as China's economy slows.

BEIJING // Dozens of workers assembling Xbox video game consoles climbed to a factory dormitory roof, and some threatened to jump to their deaths, in a dispute over job transfers.

The situation was defused but it highlighted growing labour unrest as China's economy slows.

The dispute was set off after contract manufacturer Foxconn Technology Group announced it would close the assembly line for Microsoft's Xbox 360 models at its plant in the central city of Wuhan and transfer the workers to other jobs.

Workers yesterday said Foxconn initially offered severance pay for those who wanted to leave rather than be transferred, but then reneged, angering the workers. Foxconn disputed that account, saying only transfers were offered, not severance.

The workers climbed to the top of the six-story dormitory on January 3 and threatened to jump before Wuhan city officials persuaded them to desist and return to work, according to the workers and accounts online. The workers gave varying estimates of the numbers involved in the strike, from 80 to 200, and photos posted online showed dozens of people crowding the roof of the boxy concrete building.

"Actually none of them were going to jump. They were there for the compensation. But the government and the company officials were just as afraid, because if even one of them jumped, the consequences would be hard to imagine," said Wang Jungang, an equipment engineer in the Xbox production line, who left the plant this month.

The fracas is the latest labour trouble to hit Foxconn, a unit of Taiwan's Hon Hai Precision Industry Company that makes iPads and iPhones for Apple as well as Xboxes and other gadgets, helping consumer electronics brands hold down costs. Its massive China plants are run with military-like discipline, which labour rights activists say contributed to spate of suicides in 2010.

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