Workers from Tesla's Shanghai factory are taking to social media to appeal to Elon Musk and the Chinese public after being informed over the weekend about plans to cut their performance bonuses, according to online posts and workers.
Several of the posts also criticised Tesla's handling of a fatal accident in the plant, its biggest worldwide, earlier this year and questioned whether the deductions were linked to it.
The situation marks a rare outburst of discontent at Tesla's Shanghai plant, its largest and most productive site, whose workers Musk praised last year for burning "the 3 am oil" to keep operations running during the city's two-month Covidlockdown.
Posts began appearing on forums such as Baidu Tieba late last week. Some took to Twitter, owned by Musk and blocked in China, to tweet to the billionaire, his mother Maye Musk, and Tesla's accounts.
"Please pay attention to the performance (bonus) of frontline workers at Tesla's Shanghai factory being arbitrarily deducted," said a person with the handle @AFeiywu on Twitter in a tweet directed at Elon Musk and Tesla's Asia unit.
Two workers at the plant, where Tesla employs around 20,000, told Reuters they were informed by their supervisors over the weekend about a cut to their quarterly bonus payout, which is linked to the factory's performance.
The workers said Tesla supervisors mentioned a "safety incident" when they were asked about reasons for the bonus cut. They declined to be named out of concern for their jobs.
Several online posts claimed workers at the Shanghai plant were being unfairly punished for an incident this year at the factory where one worker died in February.
According to a report published by the local Pudong government on April 12, there was a mechanical accident in the welding workshop at Tesla's Shanghai plant on Feb. 4 that killed one worker.
The local government's investigation concluded an oversight in Tesla's safety management indirectly contributed to the accident and said the deceased worker was directly responsible.
Tesla and Elon Musk did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
His mother, Maye Musk is a model who has attracted a following in China. She recently completed a two-week tour in the country where she promoted her memoir.
Some workers said in online posts their quarterly bonuses had been cut by around 2,000 yuan.
Base salaries at the Shanghai plant start from around 5,340 yuan ($777) per month, with additional income in some cases coming from over-time work, shifts and annual and quarterly bonuses.
Before tax, workers can earn around 110,000-120,000 yuan a year, including bonuses and overtime pay, according to a recruitment post on state-owned Lingang Group's official Wechat account, which provides hiring services for companies in the region. That level of pay is in line with other international and Chinese manufacturers in the region.
Tesla is set to report first-quarter results on Wednesday. A key focus for investors and analysts will be how its round of price reductions on its electric vehicles have cut into its industry-leading margins.
Tesla Chief Financial Officer Zach Kirkhorn said last quarter that Tesla expected to sustain a gross margin of 20% on autos, excluding leases and regulatory credits, with an average-sale price for its EVs globally above $47,000.