Position and Analysis

Photo form: Reporters sans frontières

The 19th Communist Party Congress (referred to as "the 19th congress") commenced in Beijing on 18th October. International media have already been releasing exclusive news and rumors through insiders from Zhongnanhai. The focus of the international community, of course, falls on the distribution of power (or power struggle?) and personnel appointments inside the Chinese Communist Party. When the Beidaihe Meeting (summer summit) was held in August, media analyzed and forecasted the distribution of political power in the coming 19th Congress. How would the China's rights defending movement and civil society cope with the forthcoming political change?

Since Xi Jinping took office, in addition to anti-corruption campaign, which aimed to rectify the Party, dealt a heavy blow to civil society and Non-Governmental Organizations, as well as the rights defending movement. Since 2012, Shenzhen government began to displace Labour NGO[1]; Seven topics (universal values, freedom of press, civil society, civil rights, the historical mistakes of the CPC, the bourgeois elites and independent judiciary)[2] were banned in 2013, trials and arrests of Xu Zhiyong, Gao Yu, Pu Zhiqiang and the others in 2014. The crackdown on civil society reached its peak in 2015. The government systematically rounded up human rights attorneys and labour activists in campaigns later known as “709 Crackdown”[3] and “1203 Crackdown”[4] respectively, destroyed local churches and chapels, while the “Foreign NGO Law” and “Charity Law” were introduced. Legislation and political repressions were carried out simultaneously. Furthermore, when Xi Jingping proclaimed that "The central television’s should share the same last name with the Party,"[5] and the subsequent handling of media reporting on the Wukan Village repression[6], it is evident that the Chinese Communist Party has already established a comprehensive management to control the media. After the "709 crackdown "and" 1203 crackdown", with most of the detained human rights lawyers and labor rights activists sentenced, the Chinese government had taken the first step to quell the civil society. The next step is to establish a core power revolving around the Party, and to strengthen controls on the civil society and NGOs.

One may consider the demolition of the civil society and rights defending movement as part of the core ideology of the third generation leadership in the Chinese Communist Party, which has been passed down by the first and second generation leadership of the Party since the establishment of the People’s Republic of China in 1949. In hindsight, Mao Zedong’s core ideology is to struggle against everything as he famously proclaimed "to struggle against heaven and earth yields endless joy”. He continuously created imaginative enemies to unite the Party-State, launching anti-rightist campaigns and the Cultural Revolution to conceal his own failures.  Through rigorous land reforms, landlords were tortured and crops were snatched from the peasants to accomplish military and industrial modernizations. The process is inhuman and brutal, but was cover up for the sake of nationalism.

After Deng Xiaoping inherited the Party and the country from Mao, he had to repair the damage. Deng led the Chinese economic reform, "reform and open up in a low profile" was his mandate. Before Deng, Mao mobilized the mass in the "Down to the Countryside" Campaign to solve the economic problems, through ideologies and revolutionary accomplishments. On the contrary, Deng lured peasants to the cities by means of economic incentives, which turned them into cheap labors of international capital. The central committees, local governors and state-owned enterprises eventually reaped fruits from the seeds sown by the peasant workers. Mao safeguarded his nationalism through class struggles, while Deng “gave in” to the West in exchange for international investments, as long as his total sovereignty over the country remained intact. Designated by Deng, Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao were next in line to execute Deng’s line. Whether it is Deng or Mao, their ultimate goals were not the realization of socialism, but China's modernization and national rejuvenation. Under the reign of Deng and his successors, labor activists and civil society were somehow tolerated to a certain extent since these constituents were deemed favorable to modernization and national revival. But after Xi Jinping came to power, the CCP has made a significant change in such Party line.

Xi Jinping and the Chinese Communist Party’s red second generation, as well as their close allies, clearly expressed their desires to break away from the line of Deng Xiaoping. After five tentative years, they are in a state of excitement to proclaim that Western societies are now much weaker than they have thought.  Dreaming of “Chinese revival” for so many years, Chinese modernization has finally come into fruition and showed little signs of slowing down.  They are delighted with China's "successful" experience - from a Third World country to the world's second largest economy.  They are eager to extend its influence, especially to other Third World countries.  They are sending messages to the world that developing in the way of Western civilization does not necessarily means instant success, while becoming a successful country are not necessarily a subsidiary of western democracy and human rights.

It is rumored that the constitution of the Chinese Communist Party will be rewritten in the 19th congress[7]. The influence of Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao would be played down, while Xi Jinping will be considered as the core of the third generation leadership of the Communist Party. Civil society and rights defending movement, which was deemed as a byproduct of Chinese modernization, are now stigmatized as Western infiltration and sino-phobic.  If Xi Jinping successfully further consolidates his power in 19th congress, and defy the ten-year tenure rule established by Deng, the situation of civil society and human rights activities will become more challenging.

 

On February 2017, a resignation letter from Lung Zhenyang, then assistant chief editor of Pro-Beijing newspaper "Hong Kong Commercial Daily", circulated on the internet.  "Recently, China's political and social environment are edging closer to a second Cultural Revolution. The hope of political system and social reform is completely shattered." [8] Although the 47 years old Lung was born after the start of Cultural Revolution, he was still unable to cast off from the shadows of it. He believes that the Party is now going down the road of another Cultural Revolution and the hope of reform is dashed as the situation is degrading day by day.

Khrushchev once published "The Secret Report", which triggered an ideological crisis within the communist camp before the Cultural Revolution in 1958. Meanwhile, Mao's Three Red Flags (the General Line for socialist construction, the Great Leap Forward and the people's communes) failed in a disastrous fashion, resulted in a great famine and death of millions, which costed his throne temporarily. These differ vastly from today’s political circumstances. Nowadays, it is the West that is going through an ideological crisis: values of democracy, human rights and environmental protection are now facing stern challenges from right-wing populism; the rapid global expansion of the US-led neoliberalism is contested by domestic protectionism; “Occupy Wall Street” and the European debt crisis, exposes the bottleneck of capitalist expansion in Europe. But on the other side of the world, China created an economic miracle that boasts the world's largest foreign exchange reserves and second largest economy, despite at the expense of peasant workers, land, environmental resources and acute disparity. Under such circumstances, China is now ready to export her model of "modern revolution (without democracy and human rights)" to Third World Countries through the “One Belt One Road Initiative”.

The 19th congress is the beginning of this historical turning point, with the "One Belt One Road Initiative" as its road map. Whether or not Xi Jingping will overturn the ten years tenure rule, decisions and changes in personnel appointments during the Congress will certainly shed lights on such ambitions. In doing so, Xi will be able to promote his massive project on "revolution exportation". Thus, Xi was uncharacteristically “high-profile” during his first five-year term. Even before he had a firm grip on power, Xi literally wiped out all political opponents within the Party in the name of anti-corruption. He established and assigned himself as the head of various policies working groups, which bypass the decision making authorities of other state apparatus. He suppressed the civil society, media, religious freedom and launched the largest political arrests since the Tiananmen Square protests.

Besides winning the power struggle within the Party, another important mission of Xi’s administration is to regulate foreign NGO. Within the unique governmental system of China, all NGOs that are independent from the party-state system has little room for survival, In fact, most of them are underground organizations. The development of civil society prospered when China applied for WTO membership in 1995. The Chinese Government was compelled to allow foreign NGOs to enter China, and therefore turning a blind eye to many foreign NGOs that operated domestically, which subsequently laid down the foundation of civil society in China. Nevertheless, just to show how determined the CCP is to clean up all unwelcomed NGOs, namely rights defending organizations, it only take two years for the current administration to legislate and implement the “Foreign NGO Law”. Among thousands of foreign NGOs across the country, only around 150 of them attained registration since the Law came into effect[9].

Xi Jingping and his party elites could only succeed in consolidating power given that the whole nation is now caught up in the fanaticism of “Chinese Revival”.  As a matter of fact, the Party elites are now reaping the fruits and successes of the country's economic reform. As for the middle class from the same generation, previous economic success becomes the foundation of their faith in the Party line. Ironically, appeasements from western multination corporates become the key to the Party’s perpetuation of such line.  Hesitating to offend this “new savior of globalization” with enormous economic interests at stake, it will not be surprising that multinational will continue to bow down to this second largest economy in the world.

Without power checks and balance from the civil society and social movements, the state and capital collusion will continue to spiral out of control which would eventually turns to totalitarianism. The power that has the strength to prevent this tragedy is still huddling in the dark, caring for its own wounds, hoping to get through the more severe social control that is expected beyond the 19th Congress.

 

[1]  http://china.caixin.com/2012-09-09/100434780.html

[6]  https://zh.wikipedia.org/wiki/%E7%83%8F%E5%9D%8E%E4%BA%8B%E4%BB%B6

[7]  http://www.aboluowang.com/2015/0724/589056.html

[8]  https://news.mingpao.com/pns/dailynews/web_tc/article/20170208/s00013/1486490108695

[9]  http://www.chinadevelopmentbrief.org.cn/news-19734.html

Chinese Workers’ Labour Dispute in Saipan

03

Oct 2017

Exposing Major Issues in Chinese Overseas Investment

This summer, an industrial action broke out on the quiet island of Saipan, a popular vacation destination in the western Pacific Ocean which is a commonwealth of the United States. Chinese construction workers, employed by Chinese out-contractors Metallurgical Corporation of China Limited, Nanjing Beilida New Material System Engineering and Suzhou Gold Mantis Construction Decoration staged a protest to claim missing wages and labour insurance while working on the Imperial Palace Casino Project owned by the Hong Kong listed company Imperial Pacific International Holdings Ltd. According to the online version of People’s Daily, each of these workers paid 10,000 Yuan to the labour agencies before leaving China while being promised to earn 300 Yuan per day on Saipan Island, which is far lower than the local minimum wages. Furthermore, workers found themselves arriving at the island without valid work permit and their daily wages shrink to 200 Yuan1. In March 2017, a worker fell from the construction site and died. It triggered workers’ anger and they started to fight for their rights. At the time of writing, their struggle is still ongoing with 37 workers, employed by Metallurgical Corporation of China Ltd., staying behind Saipan and demand for back wages from February 2017 2.

 

In line with President Xi Jinping’s “One Belt, One Road Initiatives”, Chinese enterprises are encouraged to invest overseas. For Chinese enterprises, investing overseas is also a solution to tackle the escalating labour costs and help absorbing the industrial overcapacity in China. But at the same time, Chinese overseas investments creates a number of labour and environmental issues in other countries. The labour dispute on Saipan Island is just the tip of the iceberg as reports of violations of labour rights committed by overseas Chinese-owned enterprises are not uncommon. In the age of globalization, the transfer of capital and production process is becoming more mobile than ever. Even decades ago, transnational corporates as well as small to medium enterprises have been actively tapping into unexplored areas in exploiting cheap labour and emerging markets. In order to maximize profit, basic labour rights are often sacrificed, as we have seen in sweatshops of suppliers for Apple Inc. and the military management style of Korean enterprises. With Chinese investments going global, their overseas practice is also under the spotlight. Despite Chinese overseas investments may have its unique experience, there are five common major issues in their practices:

 

 

1. Disregarding local labour laws

In order to slash labour costs, Chinese enterprises often ignore labour legislation in China and behave similarly in other developing countries. Most of the labour disputes involving Chinese-invested enterprises took place in developing countries with relatively backward legal system. Chinese enterprises tend to corrupt local officials to “resolve” labour disputes, which intensify the conflict with local workers. In January 2017, a three-week long strike broke out in Hangzhou Hundred-Tex Garment (Myanmar) Company, because the enterprise did not pay wages as required by Burmese labour laws and dismissed the trade union chairperson 3.

 

2. Violations of trade union rights and rights to collective bargaining

Chinese enterprises commonly suppress trade unions. Due to cultural difference and language barriers, Chinese employers generally refuse to engage in collective bargaining with overseas workers. They even retaliate workers and union leaders by dismissing them, when labour disputes break out. In September 2015, Ningxia Zhongyin Cashmere Co. Ltd. illegally dismissed 47 workers and three union leaders, due to their participation in the Cambodian Apparel Workers Democratic Union (C.CAWDU) 4.

 

3. Massive import of Chinese workers

In order to settle the labour surplus issue in China, Chinese enterprises tend to import Chinese migrant workers for their overseas construction projects. Statistics show that by the end of November 2015, 7.96 million Chinese workers have been recruited through agents to work overseas. Together with the undocumented migrant workers from China, who are believed to come in overwhelming numbers, they would be considered as a threat to local jobs by the local workers. Chinese and local workers might get different wages and live in different quarters, which arouses more tension. In August 2016, Kenyan workers staged a strike, attacked and injured 14 Chinese workers at China Road and Bridge Corporation (a subsidiary of state owned China Communications Construction). On the one hand, Kenyan workers complained about formidable labour conditions, wages and importation of Chinese labour for the local railway construction project 5 On the other hand, Chinese workers are also victims of exploitation from labour agencies and multi-level of subcontractors. The Chinese workers on Saipan Island is a vivid example of labour exploitation.

 

4. Labour exploitation from multi-layer of subcontractors

Different from foreign companies which mainly invest in the manufacturing sector, Chinese enterprises also invest heavily on large-scale overseas infrastructure construction projects and develops a multi-layer subcontracting system to recruit workers. Higher-level of subcontractors maximize their gain by exploiting the lower-level subcontractors and avoiding responsibilities. As a result, Chinese migrant workers’ rights to employment, wages, occupational safety are often not protected and thus, labour disputes break out frequently. As illustrated, the industrial actions on Saipan Island and in Kenya both took place in the construction industry.

 

5. Lack of corporate social responsibility

Transnational corporate have a long history of labour exploitation and Chinese enterprises are not the only offenders.  Yet, the difference is, China is neither treated as a developed country, nor being a member of OECD. Thus, Chinese enterprises are not required to comply OECD’s guidelines for multinational enterprises and mechanisms adopted by the international community to monitor multinational enterprises do not apply to Chinese firms. Moreover, as civil society is underdeveloped in China, consumer campaigns are relatively powerless to supervise and call for action against misconducts of the enterprises. In short, Chinese enterprises have not built up a management style which can effectively put corporate social responsibiliies into practice. They might be concerned about negative media attention internationally and in areas they invest in, or they might want to keep a good image for the state, but in practice, they are not obligated to comply with any monitoring mechanisms.

 

Without a functioning civil society and independent trade unions in China, the voice of international community and local trade unions / labour organizations would be vital to check and balance Chinese enterprises’ behaviours overseas. In future, we should further unite with other overseas trade unions and labour organizations, to expose and put pressure on Chinese enterprises when they violate labour rights, support local workers’ struggles and make Chinese enterprises realize the importance of collective bargaining and CSR.

 

 

1  Chinese workers lured exploited by overseas employment agency, 9th May 2017. People's Daily Online: http://en.people.cn/n3/2017/0509/c90000-9213002.html.
2  As Saipan Casino Opens, Migrant Construction Workers Still Fighting for Wages & Injury Compensations, 10th July 2017. Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions: https://goo.gl/JH5knb
3  Strike at Chinese factory in Myanmar another bump along 'One Road', Kinglin Lo, 11th March 2017, South China Morning Post: http://www.scmp.com/news/china/diplomacy-defence/article/2077951/strike-chinese-factory-myanmar-another-bump-along-one.
4  UNIQLO 縱容其柬埔寨代工廠打壓工人運動, 12th October 2016. Inmedia: http://www.inmediahk.net/node/1045126
5  14 Chinese rail workers nursing injuries after attack, 2nd August 2016. Daily Nation: http://www.nation.co.ke/news/Angry-youth-attack-Chinese-rail-workers/1056-3327302-h7p9ljz/index.html
Chinese Government Sentenced

03

Oct 2017

Rights Defending Reporters to Forbid Public’s Rights to Know

30 May this year, three Chinese labour activists, Huahai Feng, Li Zhao, and Su Heng were arrested in Jianxi Province, when investigating labour rights conditions in a shoe factory, the Huajian Group, that makes Ivanka Trump-branded shoes. Three people were detained for nearly a month being being released on June 28.

Li Tingyu & Lu Yuyu

 

Hua Haifeng

 

According to the China Labor Watch, before their arrests, Hua Haifeng and the others have collected evidence of labour rights and "labour law" violations at the Huajian factory. These include long working hours up to 18 hours per day and only one rest day every two weeks; factory managers often abused or insulted women in foul language and even exerted corporal punishments; evasion of overtime compensation were common, which resulting in wages lower than the statutory minimum wage level; and the factory even seized one month of salary from the workers as compensation in case of resignation.


Almost at the same time on August 3, the founder of mainland rights defending news platform "Not the News", Lu Yuyu, was sentenced to 4 years in prison at the Dali City Court in Yunnan after more than 1 year of detentions on charges of “Picking Quarrels and Provoking Trouble”. Meanwhile, Lu Yuyu’s girlfriend and business partner, Li Tingyu, who was arrested at the same time was reportedly released earlier in April this year. Since 2013, “Not the News” disclosed news of mass incidents across China, including land expropriation protests, workers strikes, and property owners protests every day on the Internet to unveil the truth of social injustice in China. In recognition of their sacrifices for defending freedom of speech, Lu Yuyu and Li Tingyu were awarded the “Reporters Without Borders (RSF) – TV5 Monde Press Freedom Prize” in November 2016.

 

Ivanka


In fact, it is absurd that activists are arrested and imprisoned for disclosing evidence of corporate and government wrongdoings, while these enterprises and government officials continue to go unpunished. As businesses are constantly seeking maximum profits on the expense of labor rights and the environment, the purpose to expose corporates and government wrongdoings is to defend the consumers’ and public’s rights to know, and hence, serves as a means to monitor corporates and government. Unfortunately, the Chinese government chose to arrest and suppress those who dare to seek for the truth and condone those who continue to infringe labor rights, to forbid the public’s right to know, and to prevent the truth being leaked to the outside world.

Dispatched Workers Protested for Equal Pay for Equal Work

03

Oct 2017

at FAW Volkswagen in Changchun

 

On 21 May 2017, dispatched workers from FAW Volkswagen’s plant in Changchun, China protested for “equal pay for equal work” at the Changchun Marathon. Three workers’ representatives, Fu Tianfu, Wang Shuai, Ai Zhenyu were detained shortly afterwards. At the time of writing, Wang and Ai have been released reportedly, while Fu remains detained. All three workers’ representatives might face criminal charges. Despite the suppression, the struggle goes on. In Germany, trade union of Mercedes Benz’s Bremen plant issued a statement to support the Changchun dispatched workers’ demands. The statement points out that in the first quarter of 2017, Volkswagen made a profit of 33.5 million Yuan and growth is expected to continue. While dispatched / subcontracted workers are putting in the same kind of work as regular workers, they should be treated equally. The German union also urged the authority to release the workers’ representatives immediately.

 

 

Since 2016, Volkswagen Changchun has been employing dispatched workers by renewable short-term contracts, forcing them to work on “unequal pay for equal work”. Workers protested previously and the enterprise promised to resolve the problem. Yet, the so-called resolution allows dispatch workers to be promoted as regular workers only after 10 years of services and transferred to plants in other cities such as Tianjin, Chengdu, Fushan or Qingdao. Since it is unrealistic for workers to move with their families after living in Changchun for over a dozen years, none of the workers accepted this “resolution”.

 


According to the China Labour Contract Law (2012), employers are allowed to hire dispatch workers on short-term basis for a maximum of six months on temporary, auxiliary, and replacement positions only. However, some workers have been working in FAW Volkswagen on renewable short-term contracts for over ten years. Such a practice is a blunt violation of the Chinese labour legislation. According to an interview conducted by Deutsche Welle, it also violates the parent company’s promise to temporary workers on their right to employment.


“Unequal pay for equal work” is a disrespectful way to treat workers. Moreover, when employers deploy dispatch workers to reduce labour costs, non-dispatched and regular workers would also be affected eventually. It is predictable that the employer would keep looking for cheaper means of employment and cause a decline in regular workers’ income or put them out of jobs. Thus, there should be no conflict between regular workers and sub-contracted workers, they should be united to fight against exploitation brought by sub-contracting.

Under China’s Authoritarian Governance:

03

Oct 2017

Hong Kong Marches Towards “Rule by Law”

When Typhoon Hato struck Hong Kong last month, the Hong Kong Observatory issued the Typhoon Signal No.10, which is the highest level of tropical cyclone warning signals in Hong Kong since 2012. Although no death was reported, the rampage of Hato was enough to cause widespread flooding, property damage, and put the city to a standstill.  Yet, the devastations caused by Hato are, by no means, comparable to another storm that shakes up the political landscape in the territory. Within one week, 16 young political prisoners emerged when 13 activists in the anti-northeast New Territories development demonstrations were first sentenced to 13 months in prison, followed by the Student-trio of the Umbrella Movement were later put behind bars from six to eight months.

Source: LSD

Source: HK01

 

Three years since the Umbrella Movement, Hong Kong is on the onset of a political purge with the Occupy Central Trio and other democrats are now high on the list in the next round of political prosecution. Despite top government officials repeatedly denied that these prosecutions are politically motivated, claiming appropriate legal proceeding was followed and the sentences were based on their offences, the Judiciary uncharacteristically opted to appeal the original sentences handed down to the 16 young activists, even at the expense of overturning opinions from the Director of Public Prosecutions.

 

Transplanting the Chinese Legal Model to Hong Kong

What is more disturbing is the biased verdict delivered by the vice president of the Court of Appeal, Justice Wally Yeung. “The three defendants must have known that when a huge crowd force their way into Civic Square, it would most definitely lead to clashes between them and the security guards of Civic Square, and it was highly possible that there would be injuries and deaths, and destruction of property.” he said, despite the fact that the Student-Trio climbed into the barricaded Civic Square without initiating any violent acts or injuring anyone. The judge also criticized the students’ call to “Reclaim” Civic Square is “violent and might involve forces”. Such controversial and distorted interpretations inevitably caused doubts among Hong Kong people on their beliefs in the independence of the judicial system.


In the past, Hong Kong has always lauded “Rule of Law” and “judicial independence” as the cornerstone of social development. However, as we can see from the policies implemented by the Central Government in Hong Kong in recent years, it is evident that the Chinese legal model is slowly tiptoeing into the Hong Kong courts. In China, political dissidents are often prosecuted with charges such as “inciting a crowd to disturb social order” or “subversion of state” and claims that such trials comply with “rule of law”. But in truth, without democracy, the legal system can no longer keeps the government’s power in check, rather, it has become a political tool for the government to further consolidate power.

 

Hong Kong marching towards “rule by law”

Back in 2008, when Xi Jinping first came to Hong Kong as the Vice President of China, he raised his view on “mutual cooperation and support among the executive authorities, the legislature and the judiciary”. In 2017, Zhang Dejiang, chairman of the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress claimed that Hong Kong should not follow the separation of legislative, executive, and judicial powers, but to be led by the Chief Executive and his executive officials. Then, after the National People’s Congress reinterpreted the Basic Law, which lay the foundation for Hong Kong courts to serve its political needs in dispelling six legislators from the Hong Kong Legislative Council for modifying oaths. These examples illustrate that “rule by law” is slowly replacing “rule of law”, where the legal system is devised for social control and eliminate political oppositions.

 

Death Knell is Ringing… for Whom?

Regardless of the increasing political suppression, Hong Kong people are not defeated. Over 100,000 people protested, the largest since the Umbrella Movement, to express their rage against the court’s rulings. We are all aware that politically prosecutions and harsh sentences are endangering our rights and freedom. The death knell is ringing, for you and for me.

Chinese Workers’ Labour Dispute in Saipan Exposes Major Issues in Chinese Overseas Investment

13

Sep 2017

 

 

This summer, an industrial action broke out on the quiet island of Saipan, a popular vacation destination in the western Pacific Ocean which is a commonwealth of the United States. Chinese construction workers, employed by Chinese out-contractors Metallurgical Corporation of China Limited, Nanjing Beilida New Material System Engineering and Suzhou Gold Mantis Construction Decoration staged a protest to claim missing wages and labour insurance while working on the Imperial Palace Casino Project owned by the Hong Kong listed company Imperial Pacific International Holdings Ltd. According to the online version of People’s Daily, each of these workers paid 10,000 Yuan to the labour agencies before leaving China while being promised to earn 300 Yuan per day on Saipan Island, which is far lower than the local minimum wages. Furthermore, workers found themselves arriving at the island without valid work permit and their daily wages shrink to 200 Yuan.[1]  In March 2017, a worker fell from the construction site and died. It triggered workers’ anger and they started to fight for their rights. At the time of writing, their struggle still ongoing with 37 workers, employed by Metallurgical Corporation of China Ltd., staying behind Saipan and demand for back wages from February 2017.[2]

 

In line with President Xi Jinping’s “One Belt, One Road Initiatives”, Chinese enterprises are encouraged to invest overseas.  For Chinese enterprises, investing overseas is also a solution to tackle the escalating labour costs in China and help absorbing the industrial overcapacity in China.  But at the same time, Chinese overseas investments creates a number of  labour and environmental issues in other countries. The labour dispute on Saipan Island is just the tip of the iceberg as reports of violations of labour rights committed by overseas Chinese-owned enterprises are not uncommon. In the age of globalization, the transfer of capital and production process is becoming more mobile than ever. Even decades ago, transnational corporates as well as small to medium enterprises have been actively tapping into uncharted areas to exploit cheap labour and emerging markets. In order to maximize profit, basic labour rights are often sacrificed, as we have seen in sweatshops of Apple Inc's suppliers and the notorious military management style of Korean enterprises. With Chinese investments going global, their overseas practices are also under scrutiny. Despite Chinese overseas investments may have its unique experience, there are five common major issues in their practices:

 

1.  Disregarding local labour laws

In order to slash labour costs, Chinese enterprises often ignore labour legislation in China and behave similarly in other developing countries. Most of the labour disputes involving Chinese-invested enterprises took place in developing countries with relatively backward legal system. Chinese enterprises tend to corrupt local officials to “resolve” labour disputes, which intensify the conflict with local workers. In January 2017, a three-week long strike broke out in Hangzhou Hundred-Tex Garment (Myanmar) Company, because the enterprise did not pay wages as required by Burmese labour laws and dismissed the trade union chairperson. [3]

 

2.  Violations of trade union rights and rights to collective bargaining

Chinese enterprises commonly suppress trade unions. Due to cultural difference and language barriers, Chinese employers generally refuse to engage in collective bargaining with overseas workers. They even retaliate workers and union leaders by dismissing them, when labour disputes break out. In September 2015, Ningxia Zhongyin Cashmere Co. Ltd. illegally dismissed 47 workers and three union leaders, due to their participation in the Cambodian Apparel Workers Democratic Union (C.CAWDU). [4]

3.  Massive import of Chinese workers

In order to settle the labour surplus issue in China, Chinese enterprises tend to import Chinese migrant workers for their overseas construction projects. Statistics show that by the end of November 2015, 7.96 million Chinese workers have been recruited through agents to work overseas. Together with the undocumented migrant workers from China, who are believed to come in overwhelming numbers, they would be considered as a threat to local jobs by the local workers. Chinese and local workers might get different wages and live in different quarters, which arouses more tension. In August 2016, Kenyan workers staged a strike, attacked and injured 14 Chinese workers at China Road and Bridge Corporation (a subsidiary of state owned China Communications Construction). On the one hand, Kenyan workers complained about formidable labour conditions, wages and importation of Chinese labour for the local railway construction project [5] On the other hand, Chinese workers are also victims of exploitation from labour agencies and multi-level of subcontractors. The Chinese workers on Saipan Island is a vivid example of labour exploitation.

4.  Labour exploitation from multi-layer of subcontractors  

Different from foreign companies which mainly invest in the manufacturing sector,  Chinese enterprises also invest heavily on large-scale overseas infrastructure construction projects and develops a multi-layer subcontracting system to recruit workers. Higher-level of subcontractors maximize their gain by exploiting the lower-level subcontractors and avoiding responsibilities. As a result, Chinese migrant workers’ rights to employment, wages, occupational safety are often not protected and thus, labour disputes break out frequently. As illustrated, the industrial actions on Saipan Island and in Kenya both took place in the construction industry.

 

5.  Lack of corporate social responsibility

Transnational corporate have a long history of labour exploitation and Chinese enterprises are not the only offenders.  Yet, the difference is, China is neither treated as a developed country, nor being a member of OECD. Thus, Chinese enterprises are not required to comply OECD’s guidelines for multinational enterprises and mechanisms adopted by the international community to monitor multinational enterprises do not apply to Chinese firms. Moreover, as civil society is underdeveloped in China, consumer campaigns are relatively powerless to supervise and call for action against misconducts of the enterprises. In short, Chinese enterprises have not built up a management style which can effectively put corporate social responsibiliies into practice. They might be concerned about negative media attention internationally and in areas they invest in, or they might want to keep a good image for the state, but in practice, they are not obligated to comply with any monitoring mechanisms.

 

Without a functioning civil society and independent trade unions in China, the voice of international community and local trade unions / labour organizations would be vital to check and balance Chinese enterprises’ behaviours overseas. In future, we should further unite with other overseas trade unions and labour organizations, to expose and put pressure on Chinese enterprises when they violate labour rights, support local workers’ struggles and make Chinese enterprises realize the importance of collective bargaining and CSR.

 

[1] Chinese workers lured exploited by overseas employment agency, 9th May 2017. People’s Daily Online: http://en.people.cn/n3/2017/0509/c90000-9213002.html.

[2] As Saipan Casino Opens, Migrant Construction Workers Still Fighting for Wages & Injury Compensations, 10th July 2017. Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions:  https://goo.gl/JH5knb

[3] Strike at Chinese factory in Myanmar another bump along ‘One Road’, Kinglin Lo, 11th March 2017, South China Morning Post: http://www.scmp.com/news/china/diplomacy-defence/article/2077951/strike-chinese-factory-myanmar-another-bump-along-one.

[4] UNIQLO縱容其柬埔寨代工廠打壓工人運動 (in Chinese), 12th October 2016. Inmedia: http://www.inmediahk.net/node/1045126

[5] 14 Chinese rail workers nursing injuries after attack, 2nd August 2016. Daily Nation: http://www.nation.co.ke/news/Angry-youth-attack-Chinese-rail-workers/1056-3327302-h7p9ljz/index.html

Chinese Government Sentenced Rights Defending Reporters to Forbid Public’s Rights to Know

07

Sep 2017

 

May 30 this year, three Chinese labour activists, Huahai Feng, Li Zhao, and Su Heng were arrested in Jianxi Province, when investigating labour rights conditions in a shoe factory, the Huajian Group, that makes Ivanka Trump-branded shoes. Three people were detained for nearly a month being being released on June 28.

 

According to the China Labor Watch, before their arrests, Hua Haifeng and the others have collected evidence of labor rights and "labor law" violations at the Huajian factory. These include long working hours up to 18 hours per day and only one rest day every two weeks; factory managers often abused or insulted women in foul language and even exerted corporal punishments; evasion of overtime compensation were common, which resulting in wages lower than the statutory minimum wage level; and the factory even seized one month of salary from the workers as compensation in case of resignation.

 

Almost at the same time on August 3, the founder of mainland rights defending news platform "Not the News", Lu Yuyu, was sentenced to 4 years in prison at the Dali City Court in Yunnan after more than 1 year of detentions on charges of “Picking Quarrels and Provoking Trouble”. Meanwhile, Lu Yuyu’s girlfriend and business partner, Li Tingyu, who was arrested at the same time was reportedly released earlier in April this year. Since 2013, “Not the News” disclosed news of mass incidents across China, including land expropriation protests, workers strikes, and property owners protests every day on the Internet to unveil the truth of social injustice in China. In recognition of their sacrifices for defending freedom of speech, Lu Yuyu and Li Tingyu were awarded the “Reporters Without Borders (RSF) – TV5 Monde Press Freedom Prize” in November 2016.

 

In fact, it is absurd that activists are arrested and imprisoned for disclosing evidence of corporate and government wrongdoings, while these enterprises and government officials continue to go unpunished. As businesses are constantly seeking maximum profits on the expense of labor rights and the environment, the purpose to expose corporates and government wrongdoings is to defend the consumers’ and public’s rights to know, and hence, serves as a means to monitor corporates and government. Unfortunately, the Chinese government chose to arrest and suppress those who dare to seek for the truth and condone those who continue to infringe labor rights, to forbid the public’s right to know, and to prevent the truth being leaked to the outside world.

Liu Shaoming: Courage from the Grassroots

24

Aug 2017

 

After two years of his detention, Liu Shaoming, 59, a labour activist charged with “inciting subversion of state power” for publishing his memoir of June Fourth Massacre, was tried at the Guangzhou Intermediate Court on 7 July. A harsh sentence of 4.5 years imprisonment was then handed down, close to the highest possible sentence (5 years) for this “crime”.

 

Liu was a steel worker and a member of Beijing’s Workers Autonomous Federation during the Tiananmen Square Protests in 1989. After the June Fourth Massacre, he was sentenced to one-year imprisonment for “crime of instigating counter-revolutionary propaganda”. He then worked in Guangdong Province, taking grassroots jobs such as mover, factory worker, security guard, construction worker and etc. Thus, he has a deep sympathy for his fellow grassroots workers. In recent years, Liu participated in various labour actions, helped organizing workers who were involved in some major labour actions. His outspokenness led him to the detention centres for some dozen times.

 

In June 2014, Liu Shaoming escaped the authority’s surveillance and held a banner to publicly commemorate victims of June Fourth Massacre from 25 years ago. His action earned him 10 days of administrative detention. In May 2015, Liu released his “June Fourth Memoir”, with detailed documentation of his experience of the Tiananmen Square Protests in 1989. Shortly afterwards, he was detained by Guangzhou Police on 29 May and charged on 14 July 2015. Liu denied the subversion charge and was detained for another two years. His trial was deliberately delayed and the verdict came finally on 7 July 2017.

 

Coming from a grassroots background, Liu witnessed and encountered social injustice and political violence. He is neither a famous academic, nor a rights lawyer. He cannot either write academic papers with well-structured theories, or discuss legal interpretation with expertise. Yet, as a grassroots worker, he organized other workers to defend labour rights; as a witness of June Fourth Massacre, he published his memoir online to speak up. Paying the price of his freedom, Liu is fighting not only a class struggle with the regime, but a struggle to preserve memory. Last year, he defended himself in the courtroom, talking about his goal and motive in releasing his memoir, “for my fellow countrymen not to forget this history, to reflect on such a heartbreaking history.” The Chinese Government, in order to avoid responsibility for June Fourth Massacre and to cover up the deteriorating labour relations, handed him a harsh punishment, to eliminate the righteous voice.

 

In China, dissidents face imprisonment, forced disappearance, suspicious suicide, but one after one, they refuse to kowtow, they choose to show the world their insistence and courage to challenge social injustice. The more the government wants to eliminate names like Liu Xiaobo, Li Wangyang, Wang Quanzhang, Meng Han from the peoples’ memories, the more cowardly it looks. The Chinese Government might sentence Liu with almost the maximum imprisonment terms, but his moral courage, coming from the grassroots, has never been trapped within the tall jail walls. As he said in his statement,  “for people who long for freedom, there is no difference between a some 20 square meter prison cell and a 9.6 million square kilometer prison of mind.”

Liu Xiaobo Diagnosed Advanced Liver Cancer Due to Overdue Medical Treatment in Prison

27

Jun 2017

       

Liu Xiaobo, the Noble Peace Prize Laureate was released on medical treatment on June 26, 2017 after serving 8 years in prison for taking part in the drafting of “Charter 08”. On the same day, the Liaoning Provincial Prison Administration website confirmed that Liu Xiaobo was diagnosed with liver cancer and is now under treatment in the First Affiliated Hospital of China Medical University. A video clip of Liu Xia, Liu Xiaobo’s wife, was later released on the internet claiming that Liu Xiaobo's condition is too serious to be treated with chemotherapy, radioactive treatment nor surgery.

 

Doubts are raised whether there has been a deliberate concealment of Liu’s health condition by the Chinese authorities when news on his health was considered to be in a positive state in February this year.  According to Bruce Lui, Senior Lecturer of School of Communication of HKBU, health examinations for prisoners have always been performed regularly for prisoners in China. Thus, Liu Xiaobo’s sickness should, in theory, have been taken care of before it deteriorated. However, when news of Liu’s prognoses of liver cancer broke out in May, it may lead to speculations that the prime time for his medical treatment might have been long overdue due to the cover up on his health.

 

On June 27, the Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions took part in demonstration in front of the Liaison Office of the Central People's Government in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region organized by the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China. The HKCTU believes that the imprisonment of Liu Xiaobo is a blatant violation on human rights and freedom of speech. While by preventing Liu from appropriate medical treatment at an early stage is also equivalent to denying his rights to survival. Therefore, the HKCTU hereby requests the Chinese government to immediately and unconditionally release Liu Xiaobo and stop the house arrest of Liu Xia, so that they can arrange the location and method of medical treatments at their own will. The HKCTU also demands the Chinese Government to stop all persecutions of human rights defenders and dissidents in the mainland.

Commemorating the Fifth Anniversary of Li Wangyang’s Death:

13

Jun 2017

I am not a hero, I just want to be a man

 

Li Wangyang, a man who lived up to his words, once said that for freedom and democracy, “I won’t retreat even if I am beheaded”.  For his belief, Li endured decades of hardship and finally was “suicided”. His suspicious death shocked many Hong Kongers and caused public uproar.

 

Li came from a very humble background with a very basic demand. In 1983, he was inspired by the Polish trade union Solidarity while working in a glass factory. Thus, he organized a “workers’ mutual help community” with his friends, hoping to follow the examples of workers in other countries, to enjoy freedom of association, learn and share their experience with other workers. In 1989, he founded Workers Autonomous Federation, to support the Tiananmen Square Protests led by students. Many Hong Kongers were moved by the same protests and still commemorate those who lost their lives in Beijing.


Li once defended himself at the court, declaring “Marches and protests, freedom of expression are constitutional rights, I did not commit any crime and I did nothing wrong.” For safeguarding his basic human rights, Li served twenty-one years in prison, very often in solitary confinement, on charges of counterrevolutionary propaganda, incitement and subversion.
Life is politics. Staying away from demanding the end of one-party rule nor an official reassessment of the crackdown on the Tiananmen Square Protests, does not keep politics at bay. As long as you care about your dignity, you cannot stay away from politics. Do you know Zhao Lianhai? He was sentenced for “disturbing social order” when he fought for his son, who became ill from drinking tainted milk. Let say Ai Weiwei, a political artist who lives under house arrest and surveillance for his outspokenness. Look at the human rights lawyers, who use their expertise to help victims to claim their legal rights, yet they become victims of White Terror and detentions. Many people, who have no intention to get involved with politics, are forced to fight against the notorious autocratic regime, in order to preserve their dignity and live honestly.


We all know that the Velvet Revolution broke out in then Czechoslovakia in 1989 and overthrew the autocratic regime. But what triggered this revolution? It was not a grand master plan to seize political power, but by passionate fans of the band “The Plastic People of the Universe”, including Václav Havel, trying to rescue the band members from being detained and fight for artistic freedom. Their action developed and became the major force of “Charta 77” in overthrowing the regime. Havel once described, “… the regime unknowingly exposes its true intention: to make life become monotonous, whatever is slightly different, individual, outstanding, independent, or things which cannot be classified, should be removed with a scalpel."


Indeed, what makes the Chinese Government worried the most are not dissidents in the orthodox sense, but people going through diverse daily struggles. Issues such as food safety concerns, employment security, environmental issues, religious freedom, artistic freedom and etc., are raising people’s awareness. The regime is getting more worried and hopes to control more. Thus, it is tightening its grip on civil society and penetrating at all levels. The grip is not only suffocating China, but endangering Hong Kongers. Bookstore owners were abducted, private schools were forced to shut down, musicians were arrested as illegal workers and etc., these are not random cases, but a systematic monitoring scheme to deprive us from our freedom.


Chinese poet Bei Dao once wrote, “… I am not a hero / in an age without heroes / I just want to be a man.” Maybe, the most important insight of the fifth anniversary of Li Wangyang’s death is, even we do not intend to become martyrs or heroes, we should stand firm for our human dignity. We have no choice but to defend it.

 


 

Biography of Li Wangyang

Li Wangyang (1950-2012), a resident of Huashi New Village, Daxiang District, Shaoyang City of Hunan Province. He was known as a pioneer of independent labour movement in China. In 1983, he established a “Workers’ Mutual Help Community of Shaoyang City” and in 1989, he founded the Workers’ Autonomous Federation in Shaoyang City and served as its chairman, to organize workers to support the Tianan men Square Protests. After the June Fourth Massacre, he organized several memorial services to mourn the victims. He was sentenced to 13-year imprisonment for “crime of instigating counter-revolutionary propaganda”. In 2000, he was released for reasons of poor health. Yet, in 2001, he joined a hunger strike with other activists in Hunan Province, as a petition to hold authorities accountable for the torture he received and his disability they caused. He was given an additional 10-year sentence for "inciting subversion" and released in 2011. After 21 years of imprisonment and torture, he became deaf, blind, suffered from severe heart disease, hyperthyroidism and many other health problems. In 2012, he was interviewed by a Hong Kong television station, iCable TV. He said he never regret in supporting the democratic movement in China. The interview was broadcast on 2 June 2012, which attracted enormous social attention and the state security put him under surveillance again. On 6 June, Hospital of Daxiang District informed his younger sister Li Wangling that Li “had committed suicide”. His family and other dissidents doubted if the “suicide” was staged and accused authorities of forcing his family to cremate Li's body and sign the Certificate of the Cause of Death. 

 

Imprisoned labour activists:

13

Jun 2017

Photo Credit: Website of New Citizens Movement

 

Liu Shaoming –– Liu was a member of Beijing’s Workers Autonomous Federation during the Tiananmen Square Protests in 1989 and played an active role to support the students. After the June Fourth Massacre, he was sentenced to one-year imprisonment and deprivation of political rights for one year, and put under surveillance for one year, for “crime of instigating counter-revolutionary propaganda”. In recent years, Liu has participated in various labour actions and organized a team of volunteers to safeguard workers’ rights. They were involved in a dozen of labour actions, such as actions of cleaning workers in Higher Education Mega Centre in Guangzhou, Xinsheng Shoe Factory, Guangzhou Citizen Watch Co. Ltd. and etc. In April 2015, he published two articles to commemorate the victims of June Fourth Massacre and recollect his memories of the Tiananmen Square protests. These two articles and his WECHAT messages became materials for the authorities to charge him with “inciting subversion of state power”. In mid-April 2016, he was tried at the Guangzhou Intermediate Court. Over a year has passed since his trial and no verdict has been delivered. In other words, Liu Shaoming has been given an endless imprisonment in disguise.

 

Photo Credit: Website of New Citizens Movement

 

Meng Han –– Meng Han worked as a security guard at No.1 Affiliated Hospital of Guangzhou University of Traditional Chinese Medicine and took part in a labour action, which caused him to serve a sentence of 9-month imprisonment. After his release, he joined the Panyu Migrant Workers Services Centre to continue his fight for workers’ rights. On 3 December 2015, Guangdong Provincial Government launched a crackdown against labour activists and Meng was the only person which was sentenced without suspension. The verdict stated that Meng’s involvement with the labour disputes in Lide Shoe Factory was "gathering crowds to disrupt public order" and sentenced him to 21-month imprisonment. By now, Meng has been detained for 16 months and his family has never been allowed to visit him throughout his detention, By doing so, the authorities have bluntly violated the domestic and United Nations’ provisions on the rights of prisoners.
“Rule by Law” & “Television Trials”:

13

Jun 2017

a Double Strategy to Mute the Civil Society

 

In the past, the Chinese Government took a low-profile approach to conduct its political repression. Yet, the trend has changed. Extensive media coverage and television trials have been recently adopted to crack down human rights activists. Despite international community’s condemnations, repression grows in China. Between September 2016 and January 2017, China passed three laws, namely: Cyber Security Law, Charity Law and Law on the Administration of Activities of Overseas Non-Governmental Organizations within the Territory of China (hereafter: Foreign NGOs Law), using legislations as a weapon to further restrict the growth of civil society and freedom of expression.

 

Photo Credits: BBC’s Chinese Website

 

In 2016, many human rights lawyers, labour activists, environmentalists, religious rights activists were arrested or sentenced. Quite some trials were “put under the spotlight” of China Central Television or Xinhua Net, the state media channels. In recent years, activists are often forced to make video confessions, including Zhou Shifeng and Zhai Yanmin from Beijing Fengrui Law Firm, five booksellers from Causeway Bay Books, labour activist Zeng Feiyang, Wukan Village’s elected village leader Lin Zulian; Christian activist and lawyer Zhang Kai and Swedish human rights activist Peter Dahlin. These media confessions are used as an example to silent other civil rights activists and dissidents. Lam Wing-kee, one of the victims of these media confessions, described his video confession as “well-staged with scripts and a director” in a press conference after he returned to Hong Kong, “Offenders” were told to read out their confessions in front of the camera, according to Lam. Such confessions are not only a severe violation of the detainees’ fundamental human rights, but jeopardising the independence of the judiciary. By forcing them to confess, the Chinese Government hopes to turn the “offenders’ own words” against themselves, to rationalize the illegitimacy of its repression and arrests.


At the same time, in order to weaken the civil society and the call for reform, Chinese authorities have been busy in revising laws to tighten its control. Foreign NGOs Law and Charity Law are implemented to control the finance of NGOs, restricting their independence and their ability to organize. Cyber Security Law tightens constraints on freedom of expression of netizens. These three laws could be interpreted as the Xi Jinping administration's determination to build a system of “rule by law”, namely, to restrict civil rights through legislations and maintain stability.


The recent crackdowns show that the Chinese Government no longer constrained by foreign governments’ and media’s criticisms. The growing international status of China means that the Chinese Government could ignore pressure from the international community and openly punish activists. It is foreseeable that in future, the Chinese authorities would continue to silent the civil society through “rule by law” and “television confessions”, to adopt new laws to enhance the creditability of its forced confessions, and to discredit the image of civil society through “television confessions”.

June 2016 – May 2017

13

Jun 2017

Major Human Rights Violations in China

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On 2 August 2016,

activist Zhai Yanmin, who had been detained in connection with the Fengrui Law Firm, was convicted of “subversion of state power” and sentenced to 3 years with 4 years suspended.

 

On 4 August 2016,

Zhou Shifeng, director of Fengrui Law Firm was convicted of “subversion of state power” and sentenced to 7 years.

 

On 8 September 2016,

Li Zulian, an elected village leader of Wukan Village, in Lufeng City of Shanwei, Guangdong Province, was arrested on graft charges and received 37 months of imprisonment.

 

On 26 September 2016,

Zeng Feiyang, Zhu Xiaomei and Tang Huanxing, labour activists in Guangdong Province, were convicted of “gathering a crowd to disrupt social order”. Zeng was sentenced to 3 years with 4 years suspended, Zhu and Tang were sentenced to 1.5 year and 2 yeas suspended.

 

On 10 October 2016,

Liu Shu, head of the NGO Shuguang Environment was accused of “releasing state secrets related to counterespionage work” and given an administrative detention.

 

On 3 November 2016,

labour activist Meng Han was sentenced to 21 months for “gathering a crowd to disrupt social order”.

 

On 28 November 2016,

Huang Qi, founder of 64 Tianwang Human Rights Centre was detained

 

In November 2016,

prominent human rights lawyer Jiang Tianyong, who had represented Chen Guangcheng, went missing. His disappearance took place after his meeting with Lawyer Xie Yang and his family, who had been detained in connection with the “709 Crackdown” on human rights lawyers.

 

On 31 March 2017,

Su Changlan and Chen Qitang, two Guangzhou citizens who expressed their support for the Umbrella Movement in Hong Kong, were sentenced to 3 years and 4.5 years respectively, for “inciting subversion of state power”.

Workers Made Scapegoats of “Economic Downturn”:

01

Jun 2017

Guangdong Minimum Wage Frozen for Three Years

 

 

In 1993, China issued its first national regulations on enterprises’ statutory minimum wages and in 2004, it issued “Provisions on Statutory Minimum Wages” to further regulate it, requiring it to be reviewed once every two years, if not shorter. Except in 2009, when China was hit by the 2008 Financial Crisis and statutory minimum wage froze nationwide, all provinces have been in line with the legal requirement, i.e. adjusting statutory minimum wages once every two years. On 24 February 2017, the Guangdong Provincial Government issued a “Working Scheme on Reducing Costs for Real Economy Enterprises” (hereafter: the Scheme), stating that in order to reduce labour costs for enterprises, the statutory minimum wage would be reviewed once every three years and the statutory minimum wage for 2017 would be kept at the level of 2015. This is the first case in China, that minimum wage in a province remains unchanged for three years.

 

The Scheme announces that in order to follow and execute the future development strategy drafted by the Central Government, the Guangdong Provincial Government would conduct reforms in enterprises and policies. Its goal is to cut operating costs for enterprises and push for “supply-side structural reform”. Thus, it plans to reduce the tax rates for all industries, cut labour costs, and other operating costs, and hence, promote competitiveness and ensure economic stability or even growth in Guangdong, under the background of the ongoing economic downturn in China. Back in 2016, the Guangdong Provincial Government declared that it would freeze minimum wage between 2016 and 2017, gradually reduced the employers’ contribution to employees’ pension insurance and housing provident funds to 14 % and not higher than 12% respectively. At the same time, consumer price index in Guangdong Province has increased by 1.5% and 2.3% in 2015 and 2016 respectively, according to National Bureau of Statistics. In other words, though the statutory minimum wage remain frozen due to the so-called economic downturn, prices continue to hike.


A stable supply of jobs become an important rhetoric of the Central Government in recent years. Premier Li Keqiang delivered the annual government work report at the fifth session of the 12th National People's Congress recently, calling “employment creates wealth and is a main source of household income”. Stable employment does not only mean job opportunities, but also job quality, as the Central Government has been pushing for fair distribution of resources and narrowing the income gap in recent years. Statutory minimum wages, according to previous studies conducted by different civil society organizations, have been an important indicator for enterprises in setting frontline workers’ wages. To freeze minimum wage would inevitably affect their livelihood. The State Council promulgated an “Employment Promotion Plan (2011-2015)” in February 2012, aiming to promote an annual growth of wage at 13% all over China and “statutory minimum wage should reach 40% or above the local employees’ average wage”. However, Guangdong Province failed to meet these goals by the end of the fifth session of the 12th National People’s Congress. In 2015, statutory minimum wage level was only equivalent to 28% of the average local wage, falling far behind the expectation of the State Council’s Plan. The new Scheme to freeze the statutory minimum wage clearly violates the national policy directives and regulations. In future, it might be challenged and even face administrative litigation initiated by workers.

 

 

Though economic growth has slowed down, Guangdong Province’s GDP has been increased by 8% and 7.5% in 2015 and 2016 respectively. In 2016, its GDP reached almost 8 trillions Yuan, amounting to 10.7% of the national GDP. With such glamorous growth, the decision to freeze minimum wage is sending a message that the Guangdong Government has no intention to share prosperity with the workers. It also illustrates that the current minimum wage could not reflect workers’ real needs. To address workers’ real needs, the government should make its standards and calculation methods of statutory minimum wage public, develop a transparent assessment mechanism and invite workers to participate, rather than decisions made solely by the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security and participation from state-run trade union and business associations. Meanwhile, the provincial government should pursuit the goal of raising the statutory minimum wage to 40% of local employees’ average wage, instead of freezing them for 3 years. The revision of statutory minimum wage should not be lower than the growth of GDP, i.e. the basic guarantee to share economic prosperity with workers, to stabilize the society for sustainable development.

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