China-based supplier of Apple screens Biel denies it has laid off thousands of workers

  • Biel is the world’s dominant producer of glass screens, producing the material for Apple’s smartphones, smartwatches, tablet computers and notebooks
  • It said the ‘protest’ photos actually showed employees arriving at work, and while temporary workers’ contracts had ended, they were offered permanent positions
PUBLISHED : Friday, 16 November, 2018, 6:29pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 20 November, 2018, 3:12pm

Biel Crystal Manufactory, a key iPhone component supplier, has denied Chinese media reports that the company is making thousands of employees redundant, saying it will continue to hire workers.

“We have about 130,000 workers in Shenzhen and Huizhou factories. New hiring is still going on,” said chairman Yeung Kin-man of Biel, which is the world’s largest producer of cover glass, and is based in Huizhou, Guangdong province.

His remarks came after Chinese media reports on Friday said that the company had recently announced plans to lay off 8,000 people in its Huizhou subsidiary, which prompted demonstrations on November 9. Many of the reports contained photos and video clips of hundred of workers – mostly male – gathering inside a basketball court.

“These people [in the photographs] are not our permanent employees,” said Yeung. “We recruited about 8,000 staff from agents by paying wages per hour … Half of these saw their contracts expire at the end of October, but all were offered permanent jobs and so far more than 2,000 have accepted.”

Apple suppliers, stocks recover in Hong Kong after initial declines

“The wages for temporary workers are about 6,000 yuan [US$864] a month, far exceeding that of our permanent employees, who get about 5,000 yuan a month. We needed their [temporary workers’] help during August to October when iPhone products were launched across the world,” said Yeung.

It was necessary to ask temporary workers to leave the factory at the end of October, said Yeung. At 9am on November 9, about 50 workers gathered at the entrance of the company’s D district, according to a company statement.

“Most of those on the scene were our workers as they were on their way to work,” said Yeung.

Yeung said the company reserved the right to take legal action over false media reports.

Biel, established by Hong Kong’s Yeung in 1986, is the world’s dominant producer of glass screens, producing the material for smartphones, smartwatches, tablet computers and notebooks, in addition to analogue wrist watches.

It is also the major glass screen supplier to Apple, and its products have been used in two out of every three Apple iPhones sold around the world.

Hon Hai's profit miss reflects growing iPhone-supplier woes

Shares in Cupertino, California-based Apple have been hit this month as a profit and revenue warning from an optical equipment supplier suggested investor worries that iPhone demand may be weakening were becoming reality.

Apple’s signature iPhones have become pricier with every new launch and analysts say that consumers, especially in emerging markets such as India, are ditching them for cheaper alternatives like those offered by China’s OnePlus.

“Apple is not our sole customer, we also have business from other phone makers like Huawei and Samsung,” said Yeung.

Huawei Technologies surpassed Apple to emerge as the No 2 worldwide smartphone vendor during the second quarter of 2018, and China’s largest smartphone vendor again outstripped Apple in smartphone sales in the third quarter, according to IDC data, including initial sales of the flagship iPhone XS series during the period.