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Undercover reporter details work at Foxconn's iPhone plant

After working a 10-day secret stint as an iPhone assembler, a Chinese journalist tells his story of long hours, little pay, and what it takes to make the device.

A worker at a facility in Chengdu, China.

On the eve of the unveiling of the iPhone 5, the Shanghai Evening Post published an insider report of what it's like to work at Foxconn's Tai Yuan factory assembling the device. And while it could be worse, the conditions aren't pretty.

The story is told by a Shanghai Evening Post reporter who went undercover, got a job at the plant, and then kept a diary of his life while working there for 10 days. His article was translated and summarized in English by MIC Gadget.

After going through an intensive seven-day orientation -- during which he was shown the packed, dirty dorms where he lived and massive dining halls where he ate, along with how to assemble his portion of the iPhone 5 -- he began work.

The reporter worked a night shift, which included a midnight to 6 a.m. stint without a break. He was in charge of marking the smartphone's backplate in four points using an oil-based paint pen. He worked with dozens of other employees doing the same thing, and the goal was to do it as fast as possible.

Here's what he wrote:

By my own calculations, I have to mark five iPhone plates every minute, at least. For every 10 hours, I have to accomplish 3,000 iPhone 5 back plates. There are total 4 production lines in charge of this process, 12 workers in every line. Each line can produce 36,000 iPhone 5 back plates in half a day, this is scary ... I finally stopped working at 7 a.m. We were asked to gather again after work. The supervisor shout out loud in front of us: "Who wants to rest early at 5 a.m.!? We are all here to earn money! Let's work harder!" I was thinking who on earth wants to work two extra hours overtime for only mere 27 yuan (USD$4)!?

Foxconn had a harrowed year after being exposed by the New York Times in January for labor abuses that led to workers threatening mass suicides.

Apple CEO Tim Cook visited one of the plants in March and asked the nonprofit Fair Labor Association (FLA) to investigate conditions at Foxconn's facilities in China. The FLA found a host of issues with working conditions, including excess overtime and low wages. Foxconn agreed with the FLA to reduce hours and increase pay for its employees.

It's unclear if the Tai Yuan factory has made all the changes that Foxconn agreed to after the FLA's investigation. CNET contacted Apple for comment. We'll update the story when we get more information.