International Labour Organization:
Calling China’s Trade Union Law contrary to freedom of association, urging China to ensure activists can continue their work and conclude investigations with open court judgements
In December 2015, the Guangdong Provincial Government launched a mass crackdown against labour activists, detaining over 25 volunteers and employees of labour NGOs. Some of them were released after interrogation but six of them, Meng Han, Zhu Xiaomei, Tang Huanxing (aka Tang Jian), Zeng Feiyang, Peng Jiayong and Deng Xiaoming have been charged with “gathering a crowd to disrupt social order”, for their involvement and assistance to workers at the labour actions in Lide Shoe Factory and Cuiheng Bag Factory. Another detainee, He Xiaobo was accused of “embezzlement”. In recent year, it has become a phenomenon that Chinese enterprises do not pay for workers’ social security and other labour protection measures and workers take collective actions to safeguard their rights. However, it is also equally common that entrepreneurs colluded with local governments and police repression is found in many cases. Under this background, Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions (HKCTU) wrote to International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), calling it to file a formal complaint at the ILO’s Committee of Freedom of Association (CFA) and demand the Chinese Government to stop its repression of freedom of association. On 9 November 2016, ILO’s CFA released an interim report and urged the Chinese Government to take the necessary steps to ensure that freedom of association is protected and labour activists should be allowed to continue to provide advisory services to workers without hindrance. It also demands the Chinese Government to conclude the pending investigations and provide court judgements of labour activists once they are complete.
Trade Union Law contrary to freedom of association
Despite the Chinese Government stated that “freedom of association is guaranteed through the explicit provisions of its Constitution”, CFA points out that in previous complaints against the Chinese Government, it has stated that China’s Trade Union Law is contrary to freedom of association, such as: “Trade union organizations at various levels shall be established according to the principle of democratic centralism… A trade union organization at a higher level shall exercise leadership over a trade union organization at a lower level.” (Article 9), “…The All-China Federation of Trade Unions shall be established as the unified national organization.” (Article 10), “The establishment of basic-level trade union organizations, local trade union federations, and national or local industrial trade union organizations shall be submitted to the trade union organization at the next higher level for approval…” (Article 11). In the past, CFA also urged the Chinese Government to take up its responsibility in revising these provisions. CFA further recalls that it previously stressed the importance of the development of free and independent organizations and negotiation with all those involved in social dialogue. (Paragraph 233)
Detentions of labour activists: a serious interference with civil liberties in general and with trade union rights in particular
Zeng Feiyang, Zhu Xiaomei, Meng Han, Deng Xiaoming, Peng Jiayong and Tang Jian were detained for their involvement in Lide Factory’s collective labour action between December 2014 and April 2015. They were accused of organizing three strikes, blockade of the factory entrance and threatening other workers to strike. Thus, the authority charged them with “gathering a crowd to disturb public order” due to the violations of provisions of Sections 290, 271, 272 and 210 of the Criminal Law, i.e. causing damages to the public order and the interests of other citizens. However, CFA sees that the six activists have been arrested, detained and charged for being involved in Lide Factory’s labour dispute and considers that the detention was connected with their activities in defence of the interests of workers. CFA recalls that it has always recognized the right to strike by workers and their organizations as a legitimate means of defending their interests. It further recalls that taking part in picketing and firmly but peacefully inciting other workers to keep away from their workplace cannot be considered unlawful. As the complainant’s indication that collective actions staged at the Lide Factory were peaceful, the detention constitutes a serious interference with civil liberties in general and with trade union rights in particular. CFA expresses its concern over the heavy sentences, albeit suspended, imposed on Mr Zeng (3 years), Ms Zhu (18 months) and Mr Tang (18 months) and requests the Chinese Government to provide a copy of court judgement. As it is likely that the labour activists would not be able to provide any further service to workers during the pendency of their suspended sentences or risk imprisonment, CFA requests the Chinese Government to ensure that the three activists can continue providing advisory services to workers without hindrance. The complainant pointed out that families of Meng Han and Zeng Feiyang were under a lot of pressure and were attacked by unknown thugs. Threats and harassment on Mr Zeng’s family escalated when in April 2016, his mother filed a lawsuit against the Xinhua News Agency for an article accusing Mr Zeng of embezzlement. His parents were threatened by unknown persons, claiming to be from the national security, to withdraw the lawsuit. Likewise, Mr Meng’s parents were harassed repeatedly. In May 2016, power and water supply of their apartment was cut, unknown persons came to their apartment and smashed the door with an axe. CFA requests the Chinese Government to provide its observations thereon. (Paragraphs 200, 201, 235, 236 and 241)
Chinese Government condones collusion between officials and entrepreneurs, using police power and violence to suppress workers’ lawful actions
CFA is concerned about ITUC’s allegation of collusion between local governments and employers, which allows employers to use violence and police to attack workers and labour activists. The complainant reports that three days after the negotiation between workers and Lide Shoe Factory, the office of Panyu Workers’ Centre, which Zeng Feiyang ran, was attacked. It is believed that it is a retaliation for its involvement with the labour action. After then, the employer continued to delay the workers’ severance payment for the factory relocation.
The complainant alleges that in the case of the same dispute, several workers were beaten and detained, including Meng Han, when the police intervened in the meeting of about 100 labour activists in April 2015, who were discussing their tactics and electing their union representatives. Workers then requested the employer to repay their missing housing provident funds and social insurance, the government promised that it would facilitate the dialogue between workers and employer and issued a joint- statement with the employer, claiming it would address workers’ demands. Workers’ collective action also forced the public security bureau to release Meng Han.
Furthermore, ITUC’s allegation of police intervention in a labour dispute that occurred at the Japanese owned Cuiheng Bag Factory in March and April 2015 is noted by CFA. The employer refused workers’ demand to negotiate and called the police. Over 200 riot police arrived and hauled away 26 workers, four of whom were detained for more than ten days. Many other workers were injured. When Peng Jiayong, a volunteer from Haige Labour Services Centre visited workers in the hospital, he was beaten so severely that he was hospitalized with a lumbar disc protrusion. The next day, when four staff members from Haige Labour Services Centre (including Chen Huihai) went to report the attack at the police station, an unknown person attacked them with bricks. There were several police officers at the scene but they made no attempt to pursue the attacker. CFA regrets that no information has been provided by the Government on these alleged incidents, expects an independent inquiry will be conducted by the Chinese Government into these serious allegations and requests the Chinese Government to provide detailed information on its outcome. (Paragraphs 209, 212, 238, 240)
CFA’s conclusions and recommendations
In conclusion, CFA regrets that the Chinese Government has not provided detailed information in respect of the disputes described in the complaint. CFA stresses that the only durable solution to industrial conflicts is through full respect for the right of workers to establish organizations of their own choosing, promotion of collective bargaining and creating of appropriate mechanisms where industrial disputes can be resolved through dialogue. In the light of its foregoing interim conclusions, CFA invites the ILO Governing Body to approve the following recommendations:
1. CFA requests the Chinese Government to provide the court judgments in cases of Mr Zeng Feiyang, Ms Zhu Xiaomei and Mr Tang Huanxing and to ensure that the three activists can continue providing advisory services to workers without hindrance.
2. CFA expects that the pending investigation of Mr Deng Xiaoming and Mr Peng Jiayong will be concluded without further delay and that it will also shed light on the alleged attack on Mr Zeng on 20 December 2014 and the beating and detention of several workers of the Lide Shoes Factory and of Mr Meng in April 2015. CFA requests the Chinese Government to keep it informed in this respect and to provide the court judgments in cases of Mr Meng Han, Mr Deng Xiaoming and Mr Peng Jiayong, once they have been handed down.
3. CFA requests the Chinese Government to indicate whether Mr Chen Huihai has been charged, as other labour advisers, with “gathering a crowed to disturb social order”, as claimed by the complainant, and if so, to provide detailed information regarding his case.
4. CFA expects that an independent inquiry will be conducted by the Chinese Government into the allegation of the police intervention in the labour dispute at the Cuiheng Bag Factory in March and April 2015 which led to the detention of four factory workers and injuries of many, including Mr Peng Jiayong, volunteer of Haige Labour Services Centre, Mr Chen and Zhu Xinhua, a workers’ representative from another factory. It requests the Chinese Government to provide detailed information on its outcome.
5. CFA requests the Chinese Government to provide its observations on the allegations of pressure suffered by the relatives of Mr Zeng and Mr Meng.
(Paragraphs 242, 243)
HKCTU welcomes the judgements made by CFA and urges the Chinese Government to positively respond to CFA’s recommendations, namely stop obstructing labour activists in safeguarding labour rights, respect workers’ freedom of association and right to collective bargaining. Just right before the report was released, Meng Han was sentenced in jail for 21 months for involving in the strikes above. This shows that the Chinese Communist Party has no intention to protect the worker’s freedom of association and their right to strike in order to maintain the stability of their ruling role. We urge the Chinese government release Meng Han immediately, reform the Trade Union Law and respect the workers’ rights to organise and collective bargaining.