Tuesday, May 24, 2016

China - workers' struggle


Around 100 workers at a Taiwanese-invested moulding factory in Shenzhen have successfully concluded a collective bargaining deal with management related to a possible change of ownership at the company.

The agreement, signed on 9 May, guaranteed the workers at Hietech Precision Industry (Shenzhen) Co., Ltd long-service compensation in the event of a change of ownership, the payment of social insurance and housing fund contributions in arrears, as well as high-temperature subsidies.
The employees agreed to give management eight months to pay all the money owed, while management agreed not take any kind of retaliatory action against the employees’ bargaining representatives.
Zhang Zhiru, the head of the Chunfeng Labour Dispute Service Centre in Shenzhen, who advised the workers in the bargaining process, said the successful outcome showed exactly why collective bargaining is such an important tool for both workers and management.
The Hietech case shows why labour disputes should be solved through collective bargaining. Solidarity and the spirit of compromise of the workers, the willingness to talk and sincerity of the management, and the active but neutral involvement of the local government, all of these factors contributed to this tripartite success.

Zhang Zhiru (centre) with Hietech worker representatives during a bargaining session with management
The dispute began last month when workers began to hear rumours about a change of ownership at the factory. Workers, concerned about job security, tried to talk to the boss but failed. They then took things into their own hands and downed tools on 27 April.
Management agreed to some of the workers’ demands on 6 May but did so in very vague terms and didn’t provide a clear timetable. The majority of the workers rejected the deal and continued the strike.
It was only after workers sought help from the nearby Chunfeng Labour Dispute Service Centre that significant progress was made. The workers elected their own representatives and drafted an agreement. Management agreed in principle to the terms of the agreement and the employees returned to work as sign of good faith.
On 9 May, both parties discussed the proposal for a total of 11 hours, ironing out the detail, and eventually signed the agreement. The entire process was documented on social media.
The Hietch disputes once again illustrates how civil society labour organizations can help resolve disputes that have already escalated into strike action by organizing the workers and helping to present reasonable and constructive demands to management.

Workers’ struggle continues as China’s economic growth slows to 6.7 percent

As China’s economy shows signs of stabilizing, the number of strikes and worker protests has returned to about the same level as last year after a massive surge prior to the Lunar New Year.
China Labour Bulletin’s Strike Map recorded 202 incidents in February and 171 incidents in March, while at the current rate, the figure for April should be in excess of 200. (See chart below).
Strikes and worker protests in China – first four months of 2015 and 2016
China’s economic growth slowed to 6.7 percent in the first quarter of 2016, its lowest level since the depths of the global financial crisis in 2008-09 but well within government estimates. Last month, the economy began to show signs of recovery with property prices increasing in major cities and trade figures improving beyond expectations.
Analysis of the Strike Map data however shows that there are still serious problems in the manufacturing industry and in services with businesses continuing to fail; laying off workers and refusing to pay the wages, benefits and compensation they are owed.
The steep increase in the number strikes and worker protests in December 2015 and January 2016 can largely be explained by the determination of construction workers, factory workers and miners etc. to get the wages in arrears they were owed before the Lunar New Year holiday. Post New Year, labour unrest has reverted to what has become the “new normal” of workers in a wide range of industries across the whole of China organizing to defend their legal entitlements and protest low pay in the face of economic retrenchment.
Probably the best known example of worker protest was the demonstration by thousands of coal miners in the far north-eastern city of Shuangyashan last month in protest at months of unpaid wages. However there have been hundreds of other protests, predominately in the factories of the Pearl River Delta and eastern coastal provinces, as well as in many new service industries which are still struggling to make headway.
The much discussed lay-offs in the coal and iron and steel industries have yet to have a major impact however, suggesting that the government is being very cautious in its management of the layoffs so as to minimize potential unrest. Many workers in state-owned enterprises have not been officially laid off but are essentially on unpaid vacation, a situation that is clearly not sustainable in the long run.

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