Foxconn New 'War' in Helping Workers' Psychological Health

April 24, 2014
By Cai MuyuanEditor: Sophia Zhu
Foxconn New 'War' in Helping Workers' Psychological Health
Employees work at the reception desk in Foxconn's Longhua factory in Shenzhen on March 6, 2014.[China Daily/Cai Muyuan]

Phones are ringing on a recent morning in Foxconn's Longhua Factory care center in Shenzhen even though most of the company's day-shift workers are on production lines making gadgets for tech giants like Apple, IBM and Hewlett-Packard.

The morning's barrage of calls is nothing new. According to staff, the care center gets an average of 1,300 calls and 100 in-person visits each day.

The reasons behind the calls are also no surprise. The Taiwan-based company established the center four years ago, after a string of high-profile suicides, to address workers' mental health issues.

The consultations are free and the hotline is open 24/7. If any of the one million Foxconn employees across China is having any problem related to work, relationships, legal rights or personal problems, the professionals are just a phone call away.

There's also a counseling room decorated with bright-colored walls, couches upholstered with flowered prints and potted plants on the table. "It helps to relax the workers who come to see our counselors," said a staff member.

Liu Kun, the company's spokesman, describes the effort to run the care center as "war".

"Young workers don't like to communicate with or be friends with you. It is a very tough job for us… but we have to be involved in this 'war' for the sake of workers' psychological health," Liu said.

Jiang Caixia, a worker in her 20s, she said she thinks it is a good idea for the company to provide this care.

"It's good because we have someone to talk to about our problems, which we probably wouldn't even discuss with our parents. It's also a helpful way to vent anger if someone wants to," she said.

A string of suicides in 2010 at Foxconn factories in China highlighted what some claimed was a stressful working environment for migrant workers.

According to Liu, Foxconn has made substantial efforts to improve its working environment, as well as increasing salaries and improving social interaction.

"We have hired professional groups to manage the lives of these young employees. We encourage them to go out to the city to see Shenzhen instead of staying in the factory. Our labor union also hosts activities for them," Liu said.

The average age of workers in Foxconn is 23, with six men to every four women.

According to a staff member at the care center, salaries and personal relationships are the workers' biggest concerns.

Liu blames the workers' problems on China's family planning policy and also the rising influence of the Internet.

"Living in a fake community online doesn't help them communicate better with real people or to deal with real problems," he said.

"We at the care center receive calls from the parents of young workers trying to find their kids because the children don't call home at all," said Liu. "And we get lots of these."

Lu Erfeng, who started working for Foxconn when he was 17, finds his life very boring. "It's depressing," said the 21-year old. "The monotonous work, the working environment, everything is depressing."

Lu said that although the company has match-making activities, he has never participated.

"It's just weird," said the shy migrant worker.

"I have friends who placed ads in the factory newspaper and found girlfriends," he added, smiling.

Liu admits there are problems that the company can not solve.

"Sports and relationships are two things we can't solve for them," said Liu. "It's a big factory. It's not possible to host a sports event that everyone can participate in. Also, the young workers have needs and we can only try our best to encourage them to meet each other by hosting activities."

According to Himal Shrestha, a psychiatric resident in the US, by leaving home early to work in a factory the younger employees may not be able to have the same experiences as their peers.

"From a developmental standpoint, there are particular milestones adolescents go through that determine how they view themselves. As a result, any young person taken away from a familiar environment too early may have issues with their identity."

According to Foxconn's media office, the care center does not have any licensed psychologist because there are few independently practicing psychologists and private medical care facilities.

Foxconn does have substantial cooperation with psychiatric hospitals in Shenzhen and professional medical care can be provided to the workers in case of emergency.

The company now has 15 certificated counselors that provide services to workers.

Despite the support network, there are parts of life that some employees, like Lu, would rather keep personal.

"I would want to meet someone someday," Lu shyly admitted.

"But not here, not with this work."

(Source: China Daily)

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