Position and Analysis

In Hong Kong, the spirit of Li Wangyang is closely related to poems and songs. In 2012, the news of his “suicide” broke out shortly after his interview on Cable TV Hong Kong interview had broadcasted. At that time, people in Hong Kong did not have the time to pay respect to this honourable man, but their anger made Hong Kong became the only place to demand justice for him. On the internet, loads of poems and art works were circulating to grieve Li Wangyang, the art work that had been circulated the most was a picture with the inscription: “I hope you are just standing by the window, watching the scenery of freedom.”

 

These poetries were written on a white banner and displayed in the march on 10th June 2012 that condemned the Chinese Government of Li Wangyang’s unnatural death. Li’s last word: “I will not give in even if beheaded” motivated thousands of Hong Kong people to take to the street and chanted “We are all Li Wangyang”. In the pop music industry, some lyricists embedded the rebellious spirit in their creation in 2012, such as KOLOR’s “Deer Hunter” and RubberBand’s “Open Eyes”.

6 Years has pasted, a memorial ceremony was held at the Tsim Sha Tsui Promenade, more than 200 people were gather under the banner “I will not give in even if beheaded”. All these words and poems became the nourishments of the ceremony, reminding us of the anger and struggle in 2012, just like what were written in the derogatory: “the suppression never goes, but so do you”. We will “let all these struggles became the wine to share with you in heaven”.

 

The 3 different music performances in the ceremony represent the voices of resistance from different generations. Lenny Kwok, the founder of band “Blackbird”, was touring in Hong Kong and the memorial ceremony became one of his tour gigs. In his song “I know”, the lyrics goes “Children, do you know why the school collapses? I know, I know. It’s because it was built by greed”. In 2016, Lenny Kwok and some other musicians produced an album related to the June Fourth Incident called “The Nine Songs”.

The moths “ignite the torches of madness”, is from Wong Hin-yan’s “Moth Patrons”. “It seems that there is a moment to remember in each oath.” Is it referring to June in Hong Kong? Then Billy and Yank Wong Yan-kwai performed “Journey” to remind us the dream or vision we hold in social movement. After “The Journey”, Billy, Yank Wong, Wong Hin-yan and Ben performed “Battle of Love”, a song that was originally a labour movement song from South Korea. Translated into various Asian languages, is a common hymn in Asian labour movement. In Hong Kong, “Battle of Love” is a song that runs through different struggles over the years, from the “Anti-WTO” movement in 2005 until today.

 

Poets, activists, youngsters and workers read poetries

 

Lau Tsz-wan and Yip Po-lam, poets from the poetry anthology “We Are All Li Wangyan”, was invited to the ceremony to read some of their poems from the poetry anthology. Lau said “some of my friends usually don’t write poems but they compose some poems in 2012. This is the only way for the poets to deal with the sadness this incident brings to us.”

Dock worker Chan chose some of the more straightforward poems from the anthology. We can listen to the cry of the workers through his voice. Poet Lee Mei-ting said “May be we need to walk through the square to find our way home”. Then she read out the poem “In the Great Square” by Yesi, which was written for the democratic movement in 1989.

 

There are many ways to shout, but on that special night, we shout in poems and songs. The rain stopped when the memorial started.  At the harbour front, people persisted silently.  Remembrance, struggle, freedom.  In poems and songs, we are united with the spirit of Li Wangyang, ever so close.

An erased Tiananmen Massacre? How do we reconstruct discourse?

30

May 2018

 

For years, the date "June 4th 1989" carries unescapable significance in Hong Kong's politics. It marks the watershed of conscience, defines the different camps of democratic and pro-Beijing politicians, serves as a battleground for Hong Kong people to resist China's official discourse of the Tiananmen Massacre. It is also a political imagination, first raised by the democratic movement in Beijing 29 years ago. It is also a memorial for us to rethink and discuss the future of China and Hong Kong.

 

After years of political discussion, the student movement in Hong Kong has dropped Tiananmen Massacre as a destined theme to discuss. Gradually it is fading out from the public discussions in the academic community. In this interview, two students, Ngn-man Wong from the BU Movement and Jasper Ho, previously worked for the Chinese University Student Press talk with us about this erased topic, Hong Kong and China, localism and Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements in China (hereafter: the Alliance). From the perspective of two students, born in the post-1990s years, we try to figure out what Tiananmen massacre means to them.

 

Reversed enlightenment: their memories of June 4th

Both Nga-man and Jasper learned about June 4 when they were in secondary schools. Nga-man's teacher first talked about it in the Liberal Studies Class, in the fourth year of the secondary school. “The teacher said the students should share the blame too, trying to whitewash the responsibility of the Beijing Government.” she recalled. While her classmates did not challenge such a discourse, Nga-man felt discontented and searched answers for herself. She came to People Book Cafe, a book store that sold publications which were banned in China; read Feng Congde's A Tiananmen Journal. She realized being a university student, is not only about climbing up the social ladder, but also to get involved in social movement. Such an awareness influenced her choice later, when she went to the Hong Kong Baptist University, she started to participate in student and labour movement. Although her teacher of the Liberal Studies Class had her/his judgement of the Tiananmen Massacre, (s)he still had open discussions with her and such a reserved enlightenment inspired her to investigate the other side of China's official discourse. She studied China Studies in the university and joined the China Affairs Association.

 

Jasper heard of the term June 4th in primary school, without knowing its meaning. In the fifth year of secondary school, a teacher showed the documentary “The Gate of Heavenly Peace” to the class, calling it a “historical tragedy that nobody should bear full responsibility”. Jasper was not impressed by such a description, he thought “there must have been someone, who ordered (to kill)”. He was deeply touched by the students he saw in the documentary and when he joined the Chinese University Student Press, he read more about the history of the 1989 democracy movement. He realized the importance to re-discuss this issue in the publication of June 4th Special, because “it is still going on”, it is the heritage of China's democracy movement, this part of history is not yet over and a lot more to pursuit in transitional justice.

 

Regardless it is a reversed enlightenment, they both have not forgotten this part of history. However, the promise of democracy is not only ignored in China, but also seen as meaningless in Hong Kong, as young people have other issues to discuss. Jasper said he would not participate in the June 4th Candlelight Vigil at Victoria Park, he only wanted to distribute the June 4th publication outside. For Nga-man, she only wanted to join the march with other young people to the Liaison Office of Chinese Government in Hong Kong after the Candlelight Vigil.

 

A candlelight vigil as a memorial to mourn is what they cannot tolerate. Jasper said, such an assembly would not help the public to turn their sorrow into civil action, but serves as a public show for the politicians on stage to gain votes. It has little to do with pushing for the democratic movement in China and Hong Kong and its participants seldom think about taking action. Nga-man described the candlelight vigil as an outdated memorial and could not help its participants to empower themselves. Furthermore, those politicians who shouted “to end one-party dictatorship”  on stage, are exactly those who supported John Tsang to run for the Chief Executive Election and acted indecisively in key issues such as juxtaposed control, National Anthem Act and etc. Politicians in Hong Kong seldom have any vision in the demonstration of China. The young people both questioned, “are they really inheriting the June 4th aspiration?”

 

What do we expect? A localized view of China

In Hong Kong's student community today, “avoidance of June 4th” is one of the political advocacies. Some of the localists believe, to mourn Tiananmen Massacre victims is “the business of Chinese people” and as they do not identify themselves as Chinese, it is needless to talk about Tiananmen Massacre. Some even think that the discussion of Tiananmen Massacre would provoke Hong Kong people's identification with Chinese and undermine their resistance against China. The two interviewees do not agree to this claim, Jasper said, “in terms of geopolitics, no matter you are supporting self-determination, independence, division of power, federalism and etc., you have to cooperate with Chinese people or the Chinese civil society.” He also raised a fundamental question, “to fight for autonomy or independence of Hong Kong, would it be easier with a democratic China or an authoritarian China?” He believes that the discussion of democratization of China would require such a framework, namely neither to see Tiananmen Massacre as simply a historical event, nor to divide the democratization of Hong Kong from China's.

 

Thus, Nga-man is upset that the student community's withdrawal from June 4th related issues. She pointed out that some years ago, the localists in the student unions would still talk about June 4th and raise a different viewpoint from the Alliance, then they released statements to withdraw their participation from the Candlelight Vigil, and now, they simply remain silent. There is no doubt that she treasures her identity as a Hongkonger and contributes to issues the localists emphasize, but to her, localist issues and discussion of Tiananmen Massacre are not mutually exclusive.

 

They are neither fans of Alliance's version of June 4th memorial, nor the localists' politically-correct attitude of avoiding June 4th issues. Jasper agrees that it is urgent to establish an identity of Hong Kong people, but to achieve democratization or even independence, it is necessary to talk and fight for the democratization of China. It is different from the perspective that "Hong Kong would never get democracy if China is not democratized”, but in practical terms, a more democratic China can be beneficial for Hong Kong's democratization.

 

Nga-man basically can see eye to eye to Jasper's analysis, but she rather leaves the discussion of "national identity" out. "I am a Hongkonger, there is no doubt about it. In terms of issues, I am fighting against that the Hong Kong Baptist University's new policy in making Mandarin exam as a requirement to graduate. However, to uphold the idea of national identity, I am sceptical." During the interview, she has repeatedly raised that the democratic movement in Hong Kong should integrate with class issues, to break through the current framework of discussion.

 

Tiananmen Massacre is yet to be settled. Though it fails to pass the torch in fighting for democracy, it would continue to construct the political contours in Hong Kong and China. This interview might not reflect the interviewer's viewpoint or existing logic, but dialogue, to get people to tell their minds, is the key for understanding. Conflicts are inevitable, as Hong Kong people now see their political identity differently, they would also develop different views of China's democractic movement. In an era when patriotism is not essential, patriotism might only mean affection to the land and people, or patriotism is different from loving the party, it might be difficult to find fellows sharing the same belief. To come up with an idea that fits the Hong Kong situation, yet leaves the discussion of national identity out, would be the right thing to do, After all, our concerns and attention should not be determined by nationalism.

We the Workers Getting to know the labour activists

18

Apr 2018

What is your first thought when you think of "labour movement"? Scenes of workers in strike, organizations holding banners in front of corporates' or government headquarters? News of workers' leaders being attacked, detained and prosecuted? We know indeed very little about labour movement, workers' organizers' life and daily challenges, apart from some short scenes of their struggles and demands broadcast in the news. “We the Workers”, a documentary documents labour activists in China, their living and working conditions between 2009 and 2015, to tell us more about labour movement in China.

Two organizers, Peng Jiayong and Deng Xiaoming feature in this documentary, through their works, interactions with workers, their colleagues, families and friends, audiences develop some ideas of labour organizers' daily work and the operation of labour movement in China. Assuredly, we would see scenes of workers' training, awareness raising, support to workers' actions, strategy planning and etc. The profound portrayal of Peng Jiayong is rather stunning. In the film or during the labour movement, Peng has been seen as a strong, determined and powerful organizer to support the workers. Yet, he is a human being after all and often shows his sentiment and human nature to his family, friends and even colleagues. For example, he was attacked and hospitalized because of his intervention in a labour dispute. When he left the hospital and took a rest in a hotel room, the interviewer asked him if his family was informed about his injury. He said that his some 80-year-old father would not go online and put a forced smile in saying his wife “had stopped caring about me for a long time”. The loneliness in his voice allows us a rare glimpse of real and vivid life of a labour activist.

On 18 March 2018. the HKCTU and the Department of Applied Social Sciences of City University of Hong Kong held a viewing session of this documentary and invited its producer Zeng Jinyan to meet the audiences. She also shared a similar thought with audience at the Q & A session, namely: the director developed a close relationship with the interviewees during those 5 years and audiences could feel such empathy through the film, to understand the changes of their emotions as the storyline goes. Zeng pointed out that the film neither meant to create some heroic figures or perfect images of labour activists, instead, the production team hoped to create a warm, down-to-earth and fascinating atmosphere, to get audiences stepping into the life of activists. They wanted the audience to experience the events, understand their feelings and realize these are real people.

To organize workers has never been an easy job. Most activists in the labour movement do not do it for media attention. This documentary shows the hardship they face, the effort their put, the common life they lead and hopes the audience would have a better understanding and even develop recognition of labour organizers.

Report of HKCTU to the UN Human Rights Council on the status of labour rights in China and Hong Kong

18

Apr 2018

The future of labour NGOs? A Response to Two Mindsets

11

Apr 2018

Written by: Dr. Chan King Chi, Chris, Associate Professor, Applied Social Science Department, City University of Hong Kong

On 3 December 2015, seven leaders of labour NGOs in Guangzhou were detained and four of them faced subsequent criminal prosecutions. Most of the affected NGOs were prominently active in assisting workers' collective struggles, pushing for collective bargaining between 2012 and 2015. Labour lawyers and some academics called this new type of NGOs as “movement-oriented NGOs”, in order to distinguish them from the social service-oriented NGOs and legal right-oriented NGOs. They also pointed out that movement-oriented NGOs would gradually help stimulate workers' needs. However, by the time research papers on movement-oriented NGOs were published in 2017, these NGOs either cease to exist or operate due to the crackdown in late 2015. Thus, among the labour rights supporters, some started to negate the role of labour NGOs. In this article, the author urges the Chinese labour rights supporters in China and overseas to give up on their polarizing opinions and objectively analyses the current causes and opportunities, so as to pursuit the goal of social justice determinately.

 

Looking back in history, especially the history of labour NGOs in the Pearl River Delta Region, all started with the initiation made by Hong Kong labour organizations, labour activists and labour academics; followed by overseas foundations' interested in Chinese migrant workers. With the more relaxing policies, Chinese labour rights leaders and intellectuals began to establish labour organizations and eventually, many of them came into the fore. To care about and support Chinese workers is the goal, while the existence of labour NGOs can be seen as a measure of a particular historical stage. As long as individuals and organizations which still care about labour issues, such measures can vary and be flexible. For example, eight university students from Beijing came to Guangzhou for a reading session recently, were then detained and wanted by the Government, instigated enormous support from Chinese scholars and intellectuals alike. It illustrates that the class struggle of labour rights between the civil society and Government has been ongoing, developing and ever changing.

 

Over-optimism or over-pessimism can be harmful in hard times. Optimists prefer not to face the mistakes of their strategies, continue to chant the magic words of “movement-oriented NGOs”, “collective bargaining”, “(to influence) trade union reform”, blindly believe that social corrective measures would return in the near future. Pessimists would accuse the competition between labour NGOs of harming workers' solidarity and some organizations might be even corrupted, they conclude that under the heavy-handed rule of the Chinese government, workers can organize themselves and labour NGOs are no longer needed. The first type of people believe in movement blindly and underestimate the strength of the authoritarian state, their supporters and the whole labour movement would end up paying a costly price for it. Certain cynicism is shared by the second type of believers, as they ignored the complexity of the labour issues and the diversity of labour NGOs.

Under the current circumstances, it is impossible to promote movement-oriented labour NGOs, but it does not mean that labour NGOs could not exist or serve their role in workers' life and work. Firstly, community-based labour service organizations still reach out to, connect with and educate workers. Secondly, under the economic transformation, the casualization labour market would be further intensified and labour rights will continue to be exploited, especially for workers in the emerging service sectors; labour NGOs with experiences in promoting labour legislation and safeguarding workers' rights among the manufacturing workers can continue to help the new service workers. Thirdly, labour disputes stem from the capitalist mode of production, although the state might deliver policies to mediate the industrial relations, it cannot eliminate labour disputes. Labour disputes are not caused by labour NGOs and thus, would not disappear together with the labour NGOs. The question is, when a labour dispute breaks out, is there a need to support workers? If the answer is yes, what is the possible and sustainable measure? Various activists and organizations might offer different answers and practices. No matter where they are and how they are carried out, these external supporting forces are meaningful. In short, despite the practice of movement-oriented NGOs failed due to the absence of social support foundation, it does not mean that the service-oriented, rights-oriented labour NGOs or other supporting actions are useless or have no further role to play. In fact, some migrant workers' organizations exist and operate as the government expands its service procurement, foundations are being set up by Chinese enterprises and some moderate overseas' foundations manage to register their organizations in China. They are encouraged by the policies and approved by authorities. Thus, we should not simply describe or understand these organizations and their members as “being  mollifed”. In the past two decades, activists of labour NGOs always have tried to survive and develop in the very limited space of civil society in China.

 

There are still some positive factors hidden in the current grim political climate. The third sector is growing in China and young, educated urban youths are looking for space and exploring their roles to take part in social reform. It is true that some people might get upset and disappointed by the political pressure and rejoin the mainstream society, but many others would seek for new space and possibilities, to care about social injustice or to take action to improve certain aspects of the society. This wave of middle-class intellectual youth movement has its own historical features. The activists grew up in 1980s and 1990s, the heyday of neo-liberalism and post-modernism; and the concept of class solidarity of labour politics is unfamiliar to them. Some recent research on civil society pointed out that the emerging feminist movement would connect with labour movement and become a threat to the Government. Such a theory upsets many activists in these two movements, because it connected fragmented evidence to exaggerate the political significance of the rights-movement, cross-sectoral connection and the importance of labour issues in the middle-class civil society. For labour activists, one major challenge in future is to bring the labour issues to mainstream society, to make the society care about grassroots workers' conditions and socio-economic injustice. To gain sympathy and support by exposing labour exploitation of the grassroots workers, could help disclose the multi-exploitation brought along by the authoritarian capitalism and seek for the ultimate liberation for humankind.

Volkswagen dispatch workers Struggle Continues, Hong Kong NGOs Demand Release on Workers’ Leaders

02

Mar 2018

Volkswagen dispatch workers Struggle Continues, Hong Kong NGOs Demand Release on Workers’ Leaders

 

 

On 15 December 2017, the HKCTU, in collaboration with other labour organisations in Hong Kong, protested in the Volkswagen showroom in Wanchai for the unequal treatment between the dispatched workers and direct employees in Changchun factory and urge for the release on Fu Tien-bo, the workers representative in the factory. In the end of 2016, the dispatch workers in the Changchun factory were protesting for the unequal treatment as they have only half of the wages compare with the direct employees but most of them had worked there for more than 10 years. According to the Labour Contract Law in China, the dispatch workers must enjoy the same treatments as the directly employed workers. Also dispatched workers must be directly employed after 3 renewal on its contract. In that sense, the company were suspected for violating multiple labour laws. The protesters entered the showroom and ask the company to assign a representative to receive the petition letter, but the company did not receive the letter.

 


 

Hong Kong Activists Protest against the Political Suppression on Left Wing Study Group in China

 

Photo from: League of Social Democrats

 

In 21st January 2018, Left 21 initiated a protest against the Chinese government arresting the young Maoists who joined a left wing study group in Guangdong University of Technology in Guangzhou. The protesters states that freedom of speech and freedom of association are basic human rights, even though some of the organisations do not agree with Maoism, but they are furious that the Chinese government suppress the freedom of speech. Therefore they were there to support those young activists in China, and request the Communist Party of China respect people’s political and civil rights including freedom of speech.

Challenge to Monitor Labour Conditions as Business-Government Collusion Assaults Civil Society

02

Mar 2018

 

Since 2014, HKCTU has been observing the operation of Hong Kong-invested enterprises in China closely. To expose the labour exploitations and the related collective actions in these enterprises, HKCTU released two “Monitoring Report on Collective Labour Disputes of Hong Kong Enterprises in China” (hereafter: Monitoring Report) in 2015 and 2016 respectively. The project continued in 2017 and on 29 December, the latest Monitoring Report was released. It does not cover only the Hong Kong listed companies' investment in China, but also the repression of civil society and the development of labour movement in China in the past years. 

 

 

Monitoring Report 2017 indicates, over 70 % of the collective actions (17 out 23) in Hong Kong-invested enterprises were caused by dismissals, factory relocation and factory closure, and most of them took place in small/medium-scale enterprises (SMEs) with a workforce of under 1,000 workers. This phenomenon is caused by the so-called industrial upgrade in the coastal provinces in recent years, leading low-end manufacturing enterprises to move into inland provinces or relocate to Southeast Asia. According to a research of the Federation of Hong Kong Industries, currently “Small-and-medium enterprises (SMEs) still form the majority of Hong Kong manufacturers in the PRD, with over a half of them making an annual turnover of HK$ 50 million or less.... A considerable number (about 20 per cent) of the surveyed Hong Kong manufacturers with an annual turnover of over HK$100 million have invested, established factories and set up sales departments in provinces outside Guangdong and in Southeast Asia. This shows that only when a manufacturer has reached a certain scale that it can have enough resources to explore markets outside the PRD and promote production expansion or relocation.”[1]. In just a few years, the number of foreign-invested (including Hong Kong-invested) enterprises has decreased from 20258 (2008) to 13380 (2015). [2] As a result, most of the collective industrial actions of the past years took place in large-scale enterprises during the relocation process and now, as most of the large-scale enterprises have gone, collective actions are taking place in SMEs. Such a change is also recorded in the Monitoring Report 2017: while the number of collective actions remains stable (23 in 2017 and 25 in 2015), the number of affected workers decreases sharply (150,000 in 2015 and 10,000 in 2017)[3]. It means that the labour conditions in Hong Kong-invested enterprises have remained unchanged, and the decrease of affected workers simply indicates that the wave of factory relocation and closure is now hitting workers at SMEs. The usual cooperate misconducts, such as dismissals, relocation, missing wages, unpaid severance pay and social insurance premiums are still daily reality for workers in Hong Kong-invested enterprises.

 

 

Another development is seen that since the crackdown on labour organizations in Guangdong in December 2015, labour organizations have been put into limbo, their operations are obstructed and their existence is endangered. As Lee Cheuk-yan, General Secretary of HKCTU pointed out at the press conference, in recent years, the Chinese Government revised its regulations to tighten public's freedom of expression and right to know on one hand, and develop new laws to restrict the source of funding of civil society on the other hand. Laws are now being used as a tool to retaliate workers' leaders and civil activists, such as Meng Han and Lu Yuyu.  The government and employers are working closely to either divide workers who are fighting for the same cause or directly “settle” the disputes with violence. Under this background, labour rights are frequently and deeply violated.

 

 

HKCTU concludes that that labour rights, especially grassroots workers' rights, are often the first to be sacrificed when capitalists and the authoritarian regime work together. Thus it urges the Chinese Government to immediately stop repressing civil and labour activists, to respect the three fundamental labour rights; it also calls the multinational companies to monitor their subsidiaries or suppliers, to ensure they would obey local labour law. MNCs, as the final owners of products, should also bear the responsibility and compensate workers when their suppliers fail to do so.

 

[1]. Made in PRD Study:Hong Kong Industry: The Way Forward, Federation of Hong Kong Industries, Website: https://www.industryhk.org/upload/news/attachment/fb03706932c6044b6c5169d03a05a87a.pdf

[3]. Monitoring Report on Collective Labour Disputes of Hong Kong Enterprises in China, HKCTU, Website: http://www.hkctu.org.hk/cms/images/userfile/file/2015-16%20Labour%20Rights%20Violation%20Report_Chi_Final.pdf

 

 
 
 

 

Disregard in Occupational Safety and Health Protection Continues to Haunt Chinese Workers

02

Mar 2018

Occupational safety and health (OSH) of migrant workers has been a concern in the past years. In January 2017, a Chinese organization “Cocultivation Social Work Service Centre” released a research report, based on 1,410 visit reports of injured / sick workers compiled in 2016. Researchers visited victims of occupational hazards in 28 hospitals in Dongguan City over a span of 130 days in 2016, and revisited 80% of the workers to look into their background, labour conditions, rehabilitation and other aspects. The findings of this research are then put into this report.

 

Almost 60% (58.2%) of interviewees said their employers had not provided any OSH training and therefore accidents happened. In mainland China, lack of OSH training and inadequate information resulted in low awareness in work safety and caused frequent industrial accidents and occupational diseases. Last year, a female worker told the organization that she had never heard of the term “occupational disease” before she suffered from it. It is extremely rare that an enterprise would provide OSH training. In fact, when her enterprise organized a medical check-up for the workers, the company withheld the medical results and hence, transferred her to another post. It was not until her colleagues advised her to pay a visit at the Occupational Diseases Prevention Hospital that she discovered she had contracted occupational disease.

 

Nearly half (51.8%) of the interviewees told that their employers never provided any OSH protective gears to them. It is agreed by workers that industrial accidents are mainly caused by accidents, machinery malfunction, carelessness and other factors. The lack of protective gears, though not the direct cause of accidents, is leaving workers to face more unnecessary risks. According to China Labour Bulletin's (CLB) report, the most common injury or cause of deaths for construction workers is falling from height. If the employers would provide appropriate protective gears, such as independent safety belts, accidents can be prevented. However, most of the construction sites in China are not equipped with this type of protective gears and workers have to risk their lives at work.

The report also pointed out that overtime caused industrial accidents is a common problem in hardware, plastic, furniture, electronic and shoe factories. Extended overtimes wear workers out and increase the occurrence of industrial accidents. According to the CLB report, 3% of interviewees said their injuries were caused by extended overtime. It also quoted Xinhua News Agency's report in 2016, claiming that each year, 600,000 Chinese workers died from Karoshi (death from overwork). Among young victims, cases of heart failure have soared significantly. Peking Union Medical College said it might be caused by extended overtime.

 

Chinese workers still face a lot of challenge regarding OSH. Local governments often turn a blind eye when employers escape their responsibility to protect OSH. Thus, we urge the Chinese government to strengthen its law enforcement, to ensure enterprises are operating lawfully and workers' rights are protected.

Building Alliance Between Civil Societies in Opposing Authoritarian Hegemony

01

Mar 2018

 

On 1 January 2017, the Law on the Administration of Activities of Overseas Non-Governmental Organizations within the Territory of China (the Foreign NGOs Law) became officially effective, marking the winter of the developing civil society in mainland China.  However, regulation on overseas civil organizations is not unique to China.  Worldwide, a number of countries have similar regulations and some have been in place for years, and respective civil societies have accumulated experiences in dealing with such monitoring and regulation.  Their experiences in coping with monitoring and regulation from the government are valuable references to civil society in mainland China.  In view of this, the HKCTU, together with the City University of Hong Kong, organized an international seminar on global development trends of civil societies.  Representatives of civil societies and trade unions from 8 countries were invited to have exchanges with local and mainland China civil societies. Participants learned from each other and inquired future directions for the movement.

 

In recent years, the Chinese Communist regime has systematically institutionalized monitoring and regulation of the society through vigorous legislation.  The Foreign NGOs Law which came into effect in 2017 is a set of stringent controls on actions and activities of overseas civil organizations through legislation which put the development of civil society into the clutches of law-enforcing departments.  Representatives from Vietnam, India and Russia reported that there are similar laws in their countries to regulate overseas civil organizations, while there are a lot of commonalities with the Foreign NGOs Law in terms of details of regulation, scope of control and management mechanism. For example, the Act No. 12 which came into effect in 2012 in Vietnam required all overseas NGOs operating in the territory to submit activity plans and financial reports to the government.  This mechanism is similar to the system of registration and record under the Foreign NGOs Law.  All the governments in these 4 countries tried to limit the development of civil society within the scope favourable to the regime (such as poverty alleviation, disaster relief, medical and health service, economic development and trade, etc.) through legislation.  As all similar regulations in different countries prohibit NGOs from involving in political or sensitive activities while definitions of such activities are often unclear, civic right organizations could hardly acquire legal status.  As a result, all NGOs which might post threats to authoritarian regime are shut off.

 

At the same time, laws in these 4 countries are also stringent in regulating cooperation between local NGOs and foreign NGOs, with the purpose to reduce power of civil societies by systematically cutting off exchange and cooperation between civil societies in different countries.  Obviously, authoritarian regimes have been learning from each other’s practices to refine domestic laws to tighten control on civil society.  Ironically, while governments are eager to break trade barriers in promoting the freedom of flow in capital and goods under the name of neo-liberalism, some authoritarian regimes are also deploying various approaches to suppress exchange and cooperation between civil societies, so as to eliminate  threats to the regimes and monopoly of trans-national capital. 

 

Though collusion between authoritarianism and trans-national capital has strong impact on development of civil societies all over the world, participants to the seminar did not consider it an end to civil society.  On the contrary, we learned from cases in different countries the exploitation and injustice brought by authoritarianism and trans-national capital have resulted in local resistance from the people and workers all over the world.  Take China as example, labour collective actions were taking place continuously due to wealth disparity, and did not die down despite government’s suppression on NGOs.  At the same time, local resistance induced by land issues had forced the renunciation of a proposed nuclear power plant construction in western India.  Despite shrinkage of spaces for civil societies, there are still cases of successful local resistance.  The future of civil societies depends on the flexible bonding between affected people and workers in the communities, and empowerment of people through resistance.  When facing suppression from authoritarianism and trans-national capital, civil societies in different countries also need to forge for innovative means to exchange and cooperate with each other and, hence, depose the monopolistic hegemony. 

 
Eviction of “Low-end Population”: the Great Leap Forward of Xi Jin-ping’s “New Era”

01

Mar 2018

 

In the previous winter, Cai Qi, the new secretary of Beijing municipal communist party, forcefully launched three controversial policies in order to build an unprecedented “New Beijing”.  These policies not only exposed the rashness of administration of the Xi Jin-ping regime, but also revealed the discrimination of municipal management against grassroots workers in China’s “new era”.

 

Grassroots suffered the most under the policies of “switching from coal to gas”, “eviction of low-end population” and “signboards demolition”

 

In line with the national policies of economic transformation and industry upgrading, Beijing, is at the frontline of promoting city reform and demographic restructure to attract more middle-class and professionals.  First of all, the northern China districts launched the “switching from coal to gas” policy to cut down the proportion of coal-based heating in order to improve air condition in Beijing. Since autumn in 2017, government officials have ordered the closure of coal-based heater and boiler in schools, enterprises and households, and switch to natural gas heating.  At the same time, the authority demolished and removed coal furnaces to stop coal burning.  However, winter came early in 2017. As gas-heating facilities wet yet to be completed and natural gas supply could not catch up with the increased demands, residents were forced to go out for sunshine or set up fire indoor for heating in the harsh winter, which caused considerable risks to the city.

 

On 18 November, a huge fire in Da Xing District in Beijing took 19 lives.  An official investigation concluded that the fire was caused by wire short-circuit, but the cause of short-circuit was not disclosed.  There were suggestions that the fire was caused by short-circuit of worn-out wire when residents were using electric heaters as the natural gas pipelines were yet to be completed under the policy of “switching from coal to gas”.   Regardless the cause of the fire, the following large-scale demolition of residential areas and “eviction of low-end population” have caused an even bigger humanitarian crisis.  Da Xing, the district where the fire broke out, is at the outskirt of Beijing and attracted huge groups of low-income migrant workers due to its comparatively lower rent.  In order to implement demographic restructuring, the Beijing Municipal Government used the big fire as an excuse for launching reform projects in the district.  Water and electricity were disconnected, doors and windows were demolished, and residential houses were pulled down to evict migrant population, which resulted in thousands of displaced people staying on the streets amid harsh winter conditions.  After the operation, the authority even stopped local NGOs from providing assistance to the affected people.  Teachers and students received warnings from universities and were blacklisted after they expressed support and provided assistance to the affected people.

 

 

Forced demolishment has become a usual practice of the Beijing Municipal Government.  Following the “eviction of low-end population”, the government launched another operation in “signboards demolition” in November for the sake of an alleged clearer and brighter city skyline.  During the operations, thousands of signboards in the city were demolished within 10 days, including historical signboards of hundred-year-old shops and public services.  Even authorised signboards did not manage to escape.  This sudden policy affected the small businesses the most, as their investment in making and installing signboards vanished overnight.

 

Practical solutions on “wealth disparity” should prevail over rashness to eliminate “low-end population”

 

The newly appointed secretary of Beijing municipal communist party, Cai Qi, has worked under Xi Jin-ping in the 1990s and was considered a member of the New Zhijiang Army.  His rationale of governance more or less reflected the ruling will of Xi Jin-ping.  In order to make rash advance in political goals, Cai Qi used coercive and hardline approaches to gain instant results, which blatantly disregarded the endurance of the people.  The use of campaign approach to implement government orders was similar to the rashness of the Great Leap Forward.  Without democratic consultation nor monitoring, peoples’ rights are often sacrificed for the sake of government orders.  These policies also reflect the governing rationale of many Chinese first-tier cities under the “new era”, which is to replace “low-end” and labour-intensive workforce with “high-end” and intellectual workforce.  However, without recognizing the importance of “low-end” service industries to the city’s economy, the recklessness in pushing through reforms and restructuring exposed the Beijing Municipal Government’s deficiencies in policy-making.

 

 

The above three policies of the Beijing Municipal Government were awfully discriminative against grassroot workers, as they are the ones who suffered the most under the policies.  Despite low-income workers have shouldered many basic municipal services such as catering, retail, logistics and cleaning, and is an indispensable part of the city’s economic structure, the local government did not hesitate to drive them out of doors with public resources.  This is just burying one’s head in the sand, which might intensify conflicts between classes.  In the long run, the governments of first-tier cities in China should adopt comprehensive population policy and recognize the contribution of grassroots workers and improve their living conditions gradually.  For example, the government should, on the one hand, step up its efforts to stamp out worker rights violation in grassroots service industries, such as eliminating fraud self-employment, improving occupational safety, raising wage standards, etc. to reduce exploitation on workers.  On the other hand, the government should proactively develop green industries and promote policies on renewable energy, green landscape and recycling, in order to improve eco-environment and create grassroot green jobs at the same time.  Local governments should also pay efforts to resolve housing problems caused by high real estate cost and provide well-equipped and affordable public housing in the long run.  Social problems related to wealth disparity induced by economic transform can only be addressed at the root through improving working conditions and basic infrastructures.


Factory Automation = The Doom of Workers’ Bargaining Power?

01

Mar 2018

 

Dongguan City has become a manufacturing powerhouse since China launched its economic reform. In the past two decades, the demographic dividend brought by the migrant workers has supported China's crown of “world's factory” and Dongguan City played an irreplaceable role in the process.

 

As the labour costs shoot up, factory automation is seen as an alternative solution for labour intensive industries. In 2014, Dongguan City Government launched a factory automation policy, namely the Administration Method of Designated Fund on Automation. Between 2014 and 2016, the government would provide 200 million yuan to subsidize 1,000 to 1,500 projects for factory automation annually. The aim is to decrease the number of workers, improve efficiency, upgrade industries and promote work safety.

 

So what happened to workers after three years of automation? Wong Yu, a postdoctoral researcher in HKUST shares with us her insights. Since 2014, she has been studying the impact of Dongguan's automation policy, interviewed managers and workers in those affected factories and wrote “From Demographic Dividend to Robotic Dividend: the Technological Development and Workers' Bargaining Power in South China”. HKCTU is honoured to have her to speak with us in this issue of the Quarterly.

 

Postdoctoral Researcher Wong Yu

 

The number of migrant workers entering cities has been growing, from 250 million in 2011 to 270 million in 2014, despite the government and media's claim of labour shortage in order to rationalize their automation policy. By blaming labour shortage and introducing automation to upgrade industries as a national policy, the government is trying to address the soaring labour costs and restrict workers' bargaining power.

 

After automation, the labour intensive factories would be filled with machines and operated by a few workers. According to Wong's research, depending on the production lines, the replacement rate could reach 67% to 85%. In other words, many workers would lose their jobs. Between September 2014 and December 2015, Dongguan Government supported some 1,200 projects and cut the workforce of 71,000 workers, a worrying trend for workers.

 

Surprisingly, unemployment induced by automation has not met with large-scale resistance. Most workers accept it as the “natural trend”. Those “stay” in the factories are either senior and highly qualified workers, or new workers who are specialised in operating the machines. During the process, their labour conditions have been improved. For many factories with high staff turnover, automation is a solution for them to replace the missing workers. After the automation, workers would be paid by hours, instead of piece rate.

 

Wong wrote about a failed strike in her paper, regarding a factory used to produce wooden doors. After its industrial upgrade and automation in 2008, it produced high-end fire-proof doors. Automation replaced the technical skills of senior workers and endangered their bargaining power, namely the annual salary increase. The failed strike made workers realize that technological development is indeed a threat to them and the employer, like many other employers, threatened workers with dismissals. The strike did not help the workers to improve their labour conditions, instead, they were fined by the employer as a form of retaliation.

 

China, the world's factory has experienced significant changes in the last decade: factory relocations and closures, large-scale of unemployment, automation of factories caused waves of unemployment. As a whole, the economy is transforming from manufacturing to service-oriented, workers might change from stable manufacturing jobs to informal service sectors. All these factors would all change the power struggle between staekholders in labour relations and their bargaining power.

Labour Rights Eroded, as Collusion and Suppression Persist

25

Jan 2018

Please click [Here] for the full report

 

Since 2014, HKCTU has been observing the operation of Hong Kong-invested enterprises in China closely. To expose the labour exploitations and the related collective actions in these enterprises, HKCTU released two “Monitoring Report on Collective Labour Disputes of Hong Kong Enterprises in China” (hereafter: Monitoring Report) in 2015 and 2016 respectively. The project continued in 2017 and on 29 December, the latest Monitoring Report was released.

 

Between May 2016 and April 2017, HKCTU recorded 23 collective actions in Hong Kong-invested enterprises in China and interviewed certain related individuals, in order to deliver a detailed analysis of the causes and trends of these collective actions. A 30% decline in the number of collective actions and a decrease in the number of the affected workers this year might appear promising, but the interviews revealed the other side of the story. The “promising statistics” might just be the rosy picture the Chinese Government painted as a result of its ongoing crackdown against civil society. 

 

Monitoring Report 2017 indicates that over 70 % of the collective actions (17 out 23) in Hong Kong-invested enterprises were caused by dismissals, factory relocations and closures, while most of them took place in small/medium-scale enterprises (SMEs) with a workforce of under 1,000 workers. This phenomenon is caused by the so-called industrial upgrade in the coastal provinces in recent years, leading low-end manufacturing enterprises to move further to inland provinces or relocate to Southeast Asian countries. According to a research of the Federation of Hong Kong Industries, “Small-and-medium enterprises (SMEs) still form the majority of Hong Kong manufacturers in the PRD, with over a half of them making an annual turnover of HK$ 50 million or less.... A considerable number (about 20 per cent) of the surveyed Hong Kong manufacturers with an annual turnover of over HK$100 million have invested, established factories and set up sales departments in provinces outside Guangdong and in Southeast Asia. This shows that only when a manufacturer has reached a certain scale that it can have enough resources to explore markets outside the PRD and promote production expansion or relocation.”[1]. In just a few years, the number of foreign-invested (including Hong Kong-invested) enterprises has decreased from 20258 (2008) to 13380 (2015). [2] As a result, most of the collective industrial actions of the past years took place in large-scale enterprises during the relocation process and now, as most of the large-scale enterprises have gone, collective actions are taking place in SMEs. Such a change is reflected in the Monitoring Report 2017: while the number of collective actions remains stable (23 in 2017 and 25 in 2015), the number of affected workers decreases sharply (150,000 in 2015 and 10,000 in 2017)[3]. It suggests that the labour conditions in Hong Kong-invested enterprises have remained unchanged, and the decrease of affected workers simply indicates that the wave of factory relocation and closure is now hitting workers in SMEs. The usual cooperate misconducts, such as dismissals, relocation, missing wages, unpaid severance pay and social insurance premiums continues to be common issues experienced by workers in Hong Kong-invested enterprises.

 

Another factor contributing to the decline in collective actions is Xi Jinping's ongoing crackdown against civil society and labour rights activists, as Lee Cheuk-yan, General Secretary of HKCTU pointed out at the press conference. In recent years, Chinese Government revised its regulations to tighten public's freedom of expression and right to know and restrict the development of civil society in China. Chinese Government issued new regulations to restrict “9 types of messages” shared among WeChat users, causing people to feel reluctant in sharing news of protests and collective actions, as the latest example of internet censorship.  Other laws, such as the “Charity Law”, and “Law on the Administration of Activities of Overseas Non-Governmental Organizations within the Territory of China”, to restrict the source of funding of civil society organizations, were passed to crack labour activists and researchers who investigate collective actions down. The government continues to suppress collective actions, such as strikes. The Monitoring Report 2017 illustrates that the local governments are acting more proactively, to interfere at the start of labour disputes and work with the employers with carrot-and-stick to “settle” labour actions. Such a collusion does not only sacrifice workers' fundamental rights, but its brutal suppression also caused workers to get arrested or injured during their actions.

 

 

HKCTU believes that labour rights, especially grassroots workers' rights, are often the first to be sacrificed when capitalists and the authoritarian regime work together. While labour exploitations due to Hong Kong investors' irresponsible capital withdrawals, factory relocations and dismissals continue to occur, government's collusion with capitalists to further suppress workers' voice would pose desperate hardship to workers. Thus, HKCTU lists the following demands and recommendations, urge different parties to safeguard workers' fundamental rights in their power:

 

 

 

1. Multinational Companies (MNCs)

- to genuinely implement the OECE Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises, supervise its subsidiaries and producers, to ensure that they abide the  local labour legislations;

- to instruct suppliers to respect the three fundamental labour rights (right to strike, right to organize, right to collective bargaining), to develop mechanism in monitoring and investigating the implementation of labour rights in their supply chains;

- as the owner of the final products, MNCs should take the responsibility in paying missing wages and related compensation when suppliers fail to compensate workers at factory closures.

 

 

 

2. Chinese Government

to ratify and implement the three fundamental labour rights as stated in the ILO Conventions;

- to halt the collusion between police and employers, to stop solving labour disputes through brutal suppression;

- to respect public's right to know and stop restricting their freedom of expression;

- to withdraw charges or surveillance against labour activists, to release detained labour activists.

 

 

 

3. Securities and Futures Commission (SFC), Hong Kong Stock Exchange (HKSE)

- to demand listed companies to disclose collective actions in their enterprises in the companies' annual report, or the “Environmental, Social and Governance Reporting Guide”. Information disclosure should include an explanation of “non-compliance”, in order to give enterprises more pressure in being transparent and respecting investors' and public's right to know;

- to set up a disciplinary mechanism: when a listed company or its subsidiaries have violated local labour legislations and fundamental labour rights repeatedly, SFE and HKSE should fine, temporarily or permanently revoke its business license, to ensure listed companies to abide local labour legislations;

- to establish a clearly defined complaints procedure to hear complaints relating to listed companies' operation and production, and ensure the complaints would be handled openly and transparently.

 

 

 

4. Major Business Associations

- to set up a clearly defined disciplinary mechanism to handle labour disputes complaints against their members, members who repeatedly or severely violate labour rights would be expelled from the association;

- to disclose the list of membership, in order to protect the public's right to know and allow the public to monitor the operations of their members. This can help their members to respect local legislations and labour rights in the future.

 
 

 

[1]  Made in PRD Study:Hong Kong Industry: The Way Forward, Federation of Hong Kong Industries, Website: https://www.industryhk.org/upload/news/attachment/fb03706932c6044b6c5169d03a05a87a.pdf 

[3]  Monitoring Report on Collective Labour Disputes of Hong Kong Enterprises in China, HKCTU, Website: http://www.hkctu.org.hk/cms/images/userfile/file/2015-16%20Labour%20Rights%20Violation%20Report_Chi_Final.pdf 

Xi Jinping’s Ambition—Why the 19th congress is important?

23

Oct 2017

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.

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