An employee at the Taiwan-invested Apple supplier Pegatron Shanghai has denied that the company forces its staff to work unpaid overtime following a damning report by a U.S.-based labor rights organization.
The report by China Labor Watch based on an investigation of Pegatron workers' pay stubs in 2015, found a number of violations of workers' rights and Chinese labor law.
It said that while Chinese law forbids companies from asking interns to work overtime, interns at Pegatron had overtime work amounting to 80 hours per month on average, on par with full-time employees.
"Workers must rely on overtime pay to support themselves as the base wage is too low," the group said.
It said the company forces workers to spend their own time going through company security clocking in procedures, for which they aren't paid.
"The factory forces workers to work overtime," the group said in a statement. "Asking for leave during peak season is usually not approved."
It said Pegatron workers were also exposed to potential occupational injuries without proper protection.
An employee who answered the phone at Pegatron Shanghai denied that employees are forced to work overtime, however.
"No, that's not right. They work an eight-hour day," the employee said.
"They wouldn't [be forced to work overtime]. They are all willing to do overtime," the employee said. "They also earn overtime pay, and most overtime is two or three hours."
"The wages here are pretty high," the employee said. "They make 20 yuan [U.S. $3] an hour."
The employee also denied that any deductions were taken from workers' wages.
Improvement of work conditions
China Labor Watch said most of the issues at Pegatron are a direct result of inaction by Apple.
"Currently, Apple is hindering the improvement of labor conditions within the whole smartphone industry," the group's director Li Qiang said.
"Apple alone claimed more than 90 percent of the smartphone industry's aggregate profits, while a majority of other firms were operating at a loss," Li said.
"If Apple does not take on responsibility commensurate with its status, other companies will not have the ability to make improvements either," he said.
Chinese lawyer Wang Shengsheng, who specializes in labor and human rights, said the group should complain directly to the Chinese government.
"One channel open to them is that they could complain to the labor bureau and the social welfare department, and ask them to arbitrate," Wang said.
But he said a strong union was crucial to make such complaints heard.
"If you have a union, they are able to exert more pressure, and make their voices heard, and put pressure on the departments concerned," Wang said.
"The union can warn the government that it will issue its own reports online about these violations if the government refuses to act, or doesn't act decisively enough," he said.
Labor Action China director Chan Lok-ting said such conditions aren't unusual in mainland China.
"The government isn't very tough when it comes to punishing violators," Chan said. "If there was an effective monitoring system in place, then this sort of thing wouldn't happen."
"Employers use a number of methods, for example the concept of piecework, to get around the rules and to take actual wages further and further from the minimum wage," he said.
"They also blatantly take deductions for this, that or the other," he said.
Shandong-based rights activist Zhang Hengjia said China is full of factories operating under sweatshop conditions.
"This isn't an isolated case: China is full of sweatshops," Zhang said. "These factories aren't regulated, and the so-called eight-hour day simply doesn't exist in the private sector."
"The government is supposed to regulate it ... but it really doesn't care about the rights and interests of its citizens or its workers," he said.
Sichuan-based activist Huang Qi, who found the Tianwang rights website, said labor disputes are the major cause of mass protests and strikes in China.
"Under the economic downturn, a lot of factories have closed down and laid off staff, while local governments do very little to regulate employers," Huang said.
"This means that the employers are able to dump a lot of their problems onto their workforce, so that their interests and welfare aren't protected."
"That's why we have so many mass incidents in China; many of them are caused by industrial disputes, which are still on the rise," he said.
According to PC Mag website, Apple requires its suppliers to sign a code of conduct outlining safe working conditions, fair treatment of workers, and environmental responsibility.
A 2015 audit found that 84 percent of its suppliers complied with its standards, including one facility that employed underage workers, the website said.
Reported by Wong Lok-to for RFA's Cantonese Service, and by Xin Lin for the Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.