HKCTU’s Representative Speaking at the UPR Pre-session: Bring Labour Rights Issues in China to International Scrutiny
The United Nations Universal Periodic Review (UPR) is a periodic review of the human rights records of all 193 UN Member States. During the process, all member states are eligible to make recommendations to the state that is under review. Before the actual review took place, civil society organizations are invited to offer their observations on the human rights situation of their respective countries in a pre-session meeting. In this year’s review on China, Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions was selected as one of the civil society organizations to speak at the pre-session meeting.
On November 6th, the human rights conditions of People’s Republic of China (PRC), including Hong Kong and Macao Special Administrative Region (SAR) will be under review for the third time since the establishment of the UPR mechanism. However, with only a handful of recommendations made specifically on labour rights issues in the past two cycles, the HKCTU would like to bring to the international community’s attention that labour rights issues in China have deteriorated significantly in recent years. Especially in lights of the mass arrests of labour rights activists in December 2015, as well as the recent Jasic labour struggle in Shenzhen, it is obvious that the PRC has stepped up its effort to quell labour unrests by coercive means.
During his speech at the UPR pre-session on October 9th, HKCTU representative, Lam Cho Ming, made specific reference and updated the latest development to a recommendation made by the Swedish Government in the first UPR cycle which suggested the PRC Government to lift the current reservation to article 8.1(a) of the ICESCR that ensures the right of everyone to form trade unions and join the trade union of his or her choice. Such reservation placed by the PRC Government accentuates that article 8.1(a) is to be applied in China in consistent with the Constitution, Trade Union Law, and Labour Law of China. However, the Trade Union Law is in itself a violation of freedom of association. In fact, under the Trade Union Law, all trade unions in China are required to adhere to the leadership of the Communist Party of China (Article 4). It also stipulates the establishment of a unified “All-China Federation of Trade Unions” (ACFTU) on the national level (Article 10), which is given the statutory authority to govern and control lower level trade unions, including the establishment of grass-root trade unions (Article 9 & Article 11). With such strict legislative and administrative constraints imposed by the law, trade unions are impossible to be organized independently in accordance to the interests of the workers. In more than one occasion, the International Labour Organization Committee of Freedom of Association (ILO-CFA) considered many provisions of the Trade Unions Law to be contrary to the principles of the ILO regarding freedom of association and repeatedly urged the PRC to amend such provisions. But the PRC has yet to amend the Trade Union Law nor lift the relevant reservation on ICESCR accordingly.
As a matter of fact, even when workers intend to exercise their rights to organize trade within the framework of the Trade Union Law, their rights to organize are practically deprived by the ACFTU. For instance, in July 2018, a group of workers from the Shenzhen Jasic Technology Co., Ltd. were dismissed by their employer and later arrested by police officers, for wanting to form a trade union in accordance to the Trade Union Law under the advice from the local ACFTU. However, the ACFTU has failed to demand their reinstatement nor release. As of today, the worker leaders are still under criminal detention and awaiting criminal prosecution. The ACFTU’s failure to uphold the workers’ rights to freedom of association further substantiates the absurdity of the legal restrictions as well as the bureaucratic shortcomings in practice.
Moreover, the HKCTU notes that the right to freedom of association of labour rights activists and labour NGOs continues to deteriorate in recent years. These include the arbitrary arrests, detentions, prosecutions, and imprisonments of staff and volunteers from LNGOs. Many labour rights activists were physically assaulted while providing support services to workers in handling individual or collective labour disputes. This includes a series of well-coordinated and premeditated arrests of eight labour rights activists conducted by the PRC Government in December 2015. Among the arrestees, four were subsequently prosecuted with the crime of “gathering a crowd to disrupt public order” and sentenced to various prison terms. As a result, the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) launched a formal complaint against the PRC at the ILO-CFA in 2016 (Case No. 3184). Despite repeated requests from the ILO-CFA to provide detailed information on the outcome of the relevant investigations, the PRC Government has yet to respond to such requests.
In the pre-session, the HKCTU have also expressed concerns with regard to the labour rights conditions in Hong Kong, as we are disappointed with the HKSAR Government’s failure to respond to calls to improve the right to just and favourable conditions of work. As of today, there has been no regulation nor legislation on working hours and living wage, overtime pay and rest breaks. The HKCTU observes that union rights are persistently disregarded by the HKSAR Government’s. Despite the ILO Convention 98 is applicable without modifications to HKSAR and repeated calls by the ILO since 1998, the HKSAR Government repeatedly refuses to provide legal frameworks for collective.
Owing to the UPR mechanism, the HKCTU have effectively engaged with the international community to raise their awareness on the labour rights conditions in China and Hong Kong. After the pre-session, the HKCTU delegation was able to meet with permanent missions of more than 10 countries to the United Nations and illustrated our observations and stance on labour rights issues in Hong Kong and China. Although the quantifiable outcome of the HKCTU’s mission, which can be measured by the number of recommendations made on labour rights issues in upcoming UPR on China, is yet to be seen, it is indisputable that by participating in the pre-session, the HKCTU has brought the challenges and difficulties encountered by the workers from the world’s factory, to the spotlight of international attention.