A number of vocational schools in Huai'an, Jiangsu province, have required students to do internships at Foxconn Technology Group, making USB data lines for the new iPhone handset as its release date draws near.
A student named Song from the Open University of Huai'an said she could not get the credit needed for graduation if she refused.
"The university told us it's a good way to experience corporate culture," the 19-year-old said. "Even though many of my classmates are reluctant to go to Foxconn, our teachers still asked us to work there starting in August."
She added that almost all the vocational schools in the city, including some related to food science and finance, have sent students to Foxconn, Apple's largest supplier. Her university provided more than 3,000 students.
Wang Yan, Song's mother, said she cannot understand why the university sent her daughter, a preschool education major, to make USB data lines of smartphones at Foxconn.
"I don't mind if my daughter finds a part-time job during the summer vacation," Wang said. "But spending school hours on such nonsense is a waste of time."
An English major named Zhao confirmed that the students just put together components of USB data lines at the factory.
"I don't think we can improve our skills through that 'internship' the schools are requiring," the sophomore said.
The students earn a basic salary of 1,550 yuan ($244) a month, she said. They have to work overtime if they are unable to finish the day's task on time.
However, a teacher named Tao at the city's College of Information Technology defended the "internship", saying it provides a good opportunity for the students to experience real life.
"They'll know how hard work can be and will appreciate their future jobs more after the internship," she said.
She said that students have gone back to school since internships were reported in the media.
The Huai'an government said that all vocational schools must follow the policies of education departments and any violations, such as the Foxconn internships, must cease.
An employee from the human resources department at Foxconn's Huai'an plant conceded that the approaching launch of Apple's new handset has brought big orders to the plant.
"The high demand for the handset has led to us being short-staffed at the plant," said the woman on condition of anonymity. "It's been even worse since some people finished their summer jobs and left."
On Tuesday, Apple sent out invitations to a media event on Sept 12 related to the next iPhone, which is rumored to go on sale on Sept 21.
According to Huai'an's Taiwan affairs office, Foxconn, whose headquarters are in Taiwan, has invested more than $210 million to establish new production lines for Apple components in the city.
"Though Chinese law allows students to work as interns, it cannot be applied to those working for Foxconn," said Yu Fangqiang, a lawyer and executive director of Justice for All, an NGO in Nanjing, Jiangsu province.
"The students worked at least eight hours a day and didn't have a supervisor, which makes them more full-time employees than interns," Yu said.
The vocational schools violated the students' rights to an education by requiring they work for Foxconn, he said, and the students can report that to local governments or file lawsuits to protect themselves.
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