Apple and Samsung supplier Foxconn has reportedly replaced 60,000 factory workers with robots. One factory has reduced employee strength from 110,000 to 50,000 thanks to the introduction of robots, a government official told the South China Morning Star.
Xu Yulian, head of publicity for the Kunshan region, added: More companies are likely to follow suit. China is investing heavily in a robot workforce.
In a statement Foxconn Technology Group confirmed that it was automating many of the manufacturing tasks associated with our operations but denied that it meant long-term job losses.
We are applying robotics engineering and other innovative manufacturing technologies to replace repetitive tasks previously done by employees, and through training, also enable our employees to focus on higher value-added elements in the manufacturing process, such as research and development, process control and quality control.
We will continue to harness automation and manpower in our manufacturing operations, and we expect to maintain our significant workforce in China.”
Since September 2014, 505 factories across Dongguan, in the Guangdong province, have invested 4.2bn Yuan (£430m) in robots, aiming to replace thousands of workers. Kunshan, Jiangsu province, is a manufacturing hub for the electronics industry.
Economists have issued dire warnings about how automation will affect the job market, with one report, from consultants Deloitte in partnership with Oxford University, suggesting that 35% of jobs were at risk over the next 20 years.
Former McDonald's chief executive Ed Rensi recently told the US's Fox Business Program a minimum-wage increase to US$15 an hour would make companies consider robot workers.
It's cheaper to buy a US$35,000 robotic arm than it is to hire an employee who is inefficient, making US$15 an hour bagging French fries, he said.