Tesla is receiving backlash from workers at its Shanghai plant and Chinese social media users for reportedly cutting staff bonuses after an employee was killed in an accident at the electric vehicle factory.
Reuters first reported on discontent among Shanghai Tesla factory workers who had had their bonuses cut following the fatal incident.
The news agency, citing an April 12 report by the local Pudong government, said there had been a mechanical accident in the plant’s welding workshop on Feb. 4 that resulted in the death of one employee.
The Tesla Gigafactory in Shanghai employs around 20,000 people. Two of the plant’s employees told Reuters they had been told their quarterly performance bonuses would be cut, with management referring to a “safety incident” when questioned about the reasons for the bonus reductions.
Reuters also reported that employees had taken to social media to appeal to Elon Musk and his mother, model Maye Musk—who has gained a following in China—to U-turn on staff bonuses taking a hit because of the incident.
“Please pay attention to the performance of frontline workers at Tesla’s Shanghai factory being arbitrarily deducted,” one Twitter user wrote in a tweet directed to Musk and Tesla Asia’s official account.
The performance bonus cuts also became the topic of discussions on Chinese forums like Baidu Tieba.
One Baidu user who said they were employed at the Shanghai factory wrote in a post on Sunday that all frontline workers at the facility had had more than 2,000 yuan ($291) deducted from their performance bonuses following an accident.
Fortune was not able to independently verify their claims.
‘Malicious’ pay docking
The worker labeled the docking of the bonus payments “malicious” and said they had been left feeling “helpless” and “shocked and disappointed” by the move.
“Working in the Tesla factory is by no means an easy job,” they said. “From the first process to the last process, [everything] needs to be very rigorous and meticulous—all work needs to be carried out in accordance with the company’s standards to ensure the quality and safety of each Tesla car is guaranteed.”
The worker argued that cutting bonuses was unfairly placing responsibility for the accident on people who played no part in it and said that the decision would dampen employee morale.
“Such an approach makes us question whether the company really values employees. Can we trust a company when it shifts the responsibility to front-line employees?” they questioned. “Employees will feel that the company has no value for their work, even if they invest a lot of time and energy in their jobs.”
Another user who claimed to work at Tesla’s Shanghai plant announced that they now planned to resign from the company and seek a job at a Chinese rival like BYD.
“This is outrageous,” another wrote on a thread discussing the controversy. “This is obviously because the safety production management is not in place, and the workers’ money is deducted? The management should have money deducted.”
Representatives for Tesla did not respond to Fortune’s request for comment.
Tesla CEO Musk made headlines last year when he praised the Chinese work ethic, lauding factory workers in the country for “burning the 3 a.m. oil.”
Last year, when Shanghai was under strict COVID lockdown measures, it was reported that staff at Tesla’s Shanghai factory were sleeping on-site and working 12-hour shifts, six days per week.
Earlier this month, Tesla announced plans to open a Megafactory in Shanghai that was capable of producing 10,000 Megapacks—powerful batteries that serve as energy storage units—per year.
Our next Megafactory will be in Shanghai 🇨🇳—capable of producing 10k Megapacks per year pic.twitter.com/KlVGq5gYOg
— Tesla (@Tesla) April 9, 2023
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