Working conditions for employees making Apple products in China have long come under scrutiny, with claims of mass suicide, cramped accommodation and dangerous working conditions. It now appears that even senior executives within the Apple Corporation were expected to be on call seven days a week, and even while on holiday, if they want to get on in the company.

Don Melton, who started up Apple's Safari and WebKit projects, and Nitin Ganatra, a director of applications for iOS, spoke about the incredible pressures of working at the company in a podcast with Debug.

Apple China
Workers at the Catcher factory were forced to work overtime, and lacked both safety equipment and training. Green America/China Labor Watch

Working at Apple, he says, was "like working in a nuclear power plant, but you don't get one of those protective suits". He added: "You either learn to survive it or you die."

Former director of applications for iOS Ganatra says emails would arrive in the middle of the night which required an instant response – especially ones from former Apple vice president Scott Forstall. "It's from Scott, but it's a forward from Steve [Jobs] and it's just at this crazy hour, right? You just know that there's this fire hose of emails that are just going out at 2:45am…And that was just week after week, month after month."

Jobs may be gone, but his work ethic has cast long shadows; Melton says new Apple chief executive Tim Cook is similarly driven.

"When you hear the so-called apocryphal stories about Tim Cook coming to work in the wee hours and staying late, it's not just some PR person telling you stories to make you think that Apple executives work really hard like that. They really do that. I mean, these people are nuts. They're just, they are there all the time," says Melton.

Proposed new Apple campus in Cupertino, California
Apple\'s new campus in Cupertino, California, will make a sharp contrast to conditions workers for its Chinese subcontractors endure. Apple

Working weekends was not only normal but expected, says Melton on his personal blog. "Our veeps had to be ready for the big status and planning meeting on Monday morning and we had to be available to help them. Steve always had the meeting then. I assume to set the tone and the pace for the week. Good idea, really. I doubt that's changed now. It's not like other folks there weren't working nights and weekends too. Many of my engineers worked longer and harder than I did. It was a busy place. By our choice."

Just in case you were beginning to feel sorry for the overworked executives, Melton admits working for Apple was a "kind of a Faustian bargain you make": there were compensations to the sacrifices you make.