Position and Analysis

while the Stock Exchange of Hong Kong Limited (the Exchange) turns a blind eye

The Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions (HKCTU) has set up a “Monitoring Database of Hong Kong Enterprises in China” three years ago, to acquire information through media, social media, and interviews with labour organizations and workers in China. This year, the “Monitoring Report on Collective Labour Disputes of Hong Kong Enterprises in China” (Monitoring Report) covers from May 2015 to June 2016.  It documents large-scale labour disputes in Hong Kong enterprises and their labour violations, and aims to monitor multinational brands and Hong Kong entrepreneurs. It also advocates the Hong Kong Government to better monitor Hong Kong-listed enterprises’ conducts in other countries / territories. Last year, the Monitoring Report (2015) disclosed that many Hong Kong enterprises failed to pay for workers’ social security contributions and consequently led to a wave of strikes. This year, the Monitoring Report tells us about how these Hong Kong enterprises use relocation, equity transfer, restructuring, and prolonged wages arrears to force workers into “voluntary resignation”, in order to avoid paying severance compensation as required by law. Almost 60% (59.3%) of the cases of collective labour disputes are related to missing severance compensation and some of them involve listed companies in Hong Kong. Likewise, wages arrears take place in 56.3% of all collective labour disputes cases.

 

Hong Kong-listed Royale Furniture Holdings Ltd. is suspected to send triad members to dispense workers and avoid paying severance compensation

Among the 32 cases of collective labour disputes in Hong Kong enterprises, almost 60% (19 cases) are caused by unpaid or missing severance compensation. Over 20% of them involved subsidiaries of Hong Kong-listed companies. Royale Furniture Holdings Limited (HKG: 1198) is one of them. During the National Day holidays in 2015, Signature Enterprise Company Limited (Guangzhou), a subsidiary of Royale Furniture Holdings Limited, moved machineries to another production site, about two hours drive from its Guangzhou plant, without informing its workers. Such a secret relocation is meant to avoid paying severance pay to workers.

 

 

Hiding plan of relocation from workers and accusing workers of “voluntary resignation”

According to an online platform which documents collective labour disputes, Signature Enterprise deployed triad members to threaten workers. Workers recalled that their employer offered them an extraordinary long holiday and when they returned to work (the morning of 8 October 2015), they found the factory gate had been locked and over 100 men were blocking their entrance. These men were all uniformly dressed in black T-shirts and camouflage pants. Workers were stopped when they walked forward to ask for a reason and three of them experienced minor injuries when a conflict broke out with these men.


Workers then came with a banner to protest. They reflected, “the employer never asked us about the relocation.” Then the enterprise posted a “Notice of Return to Work” some days later, which ordered workers to take a coach organized by the enterprise on 19 October, to travel to work in the new plant in Zengcheng, approximately two hours drive one way. Xiao Liu, a worker of Signature Enterprise, explained, “we are not willing to go there because our families are here, we can’t just go there and work.” He pointed to workers who guarded at the factory gate, “these workers have aging parents, babies and primary school aged children to take care of. It is unrealistic that the employer simply asks us to go over.” After Signature Enterprise’s relocation, Royale Furniture dismissed workers who did not go to work in the new plant, accusing them of “voluntary resignation” after five days of “failing to attend work”.

 

Lack of transparency, the Exchange’s neglect to monitor listed companies

Johnson Electrics (Guangdong) Limited is wholly owned by Hong Kong listed company Johnson Electrics (HKG: 0179). The plant ignores occupational safety, violates the local work safety regulations, fails to provide appropriate protective measures or training on working with chemicals. At least six workers contracted leukaemia, which may have been caused by prolonged exposure to toxic chemicals such as benzene and thinners. However, Johnson Electrics refused to pay for their medical expenses or their wages. When Zou Xiuhua, one of the six victims, demanded the employer to pay for his medical expenses he was told by the company: “we have so many workers with leukaemia in the enterprise, if I pay for your medical expenses, what should I do with other sick workers?”

 

Currently, at least four workers from Johnson Electrics have officially been diagnosed with occupational leukaemia, by the Hospital for Occupational Disease Prevention and Treatment. Despite this, Johnson Electrics adopts delaying tactics and refuses to pay the related compensations. For example, Zeng Shumei, a female worker who entered the factory in 2009, was diagnosed with acute myeloblastic leukaemia M2a in 2013. The Guangdong Provincial Hospital for Occupational Disease Prevention and Treatment also identified it as a case of occupational cancer. Yet, Johnson Electrics appealed and delayed the procedure in providing related information for an official diagnosis, which kept her case in limbo. Likewise, leukaemia victims were offered a meeting with Liang Yanfan, general manager of Johnson Electrics’ Human Resources Department in Shajing Plant in Shenzhen, but they were physically assaulted after the meeting. Workers came to protest in Hong Kong twice. Johnson Electrics “agreed” to meet again with workers but continued using delaying tactics once the media stopped following the case.


The HKCTU lodged a complaint at the Exchange and provided evidence of workers’ official diagnosis of occupational disease, accusing Johnson Electrics of violating Chinese labour legislations and failing to pay workers their legal compensation. However, the Exchange refused to meet, not even with the severely ill victims who travelled to Hong Kong. The exchange wrote to the HKCTU, calling the complaint insignificant to Johnson Electrics and refused to further process it. In fact, the Exchange has never disclosed its investigation procedure or evaluation criteria. With such a lack of transparency, how can the Exchange be trusted that it would uphold public interests and monitor listed company impartially?

 

 

Listed Companies’ Disclosure of Information: a laughing stock

In July 2015, the Exchange amended its policies on listed companies’ disclosure of information and released a consultation paper “Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) Reporting Guide” (Reporting Guide). Amendments would then be applicable to the Listing Rules. Labour standards are included in the social aspect in the Reporting Guide. The Reporting Guide upgraded the disclosure of some aspects from “recommended disclosure” to “comply or explain”. During the consultation period, the HKCTU wrote to the Exchange and recommended “a set of clear disclosure guidelines and criteria” of labour standards for listed companies to comply with. A listed company has a responsibility to clearly inform their investors, employees and public about its labour standards and the compliance of labour protection, for the stakeholders to make informed evaluation of the impact of the company’s labour violations on themselves. The Exchange eventually demands listed companies to disclose “related policies” on labour rights and their compliance with labour legislations, but without the detailed records of the frequency of labour violations and related labour actions. For example, in Hutchison Whampoa Limited’s Annual Report 2014, the impact of Hong Kong Dockers’ Strike on its turnover was not spelled out. Though stakeholders might be aware of the labour action, they are not informed about the loss such an industrial action could lead to. As a fact, the amendments neither encourage listed companies to implement policies to protect workers, nor promote better governance to the public. They even fail to protect investors’ interests, as they lack details from the disclosure of information, if those self-proclaimed policies by the listed companies have been implemented or proven effective.  


This year’s Monitoring Report illustrates that in the midst of Guangdong’s economic transformation and as economic slowdown deepens in China, even Hong Kong listed companies would sacrifice workers’ basic legal rights and exploit them mercilessly. Labour conditions in small or medium-scale enterprises can only be more appalling. The cases described above also show that the Exchange connive listed companies, in both aspects of policy making and implementation. The Exchange’s lack of transparency is unhelpful in monitoring the listed companies’ compliance of corporate social responsibility and protecting the public’s right to know. As a result, the Exchange fails to provide concrete protection to both Chinese workers and investors.

Unusual Features of China’s Walmart Workers’ Resistance

24

Dec 2016

China has experienced an increasing number of strikes in the last few years. Among them, the Walmart workers’ protest that is now in its third month marks a new stage in post-Mao labour history. The protest exhibits a number of special features. First, while all of the strikes so far have taken place at single workplaces, coordinated strikes erupted at the same time this year at four Walmart stores in different cities. Second, these strikes, as well as protests at many other Walmart stores, were initiated and organized by workers themselves without prior contact with any labour NGOs. Third, the protests have been coordinated through the internet, using an on-line platform set up by two Chinese Walmart workers in 2014, The founders gave it a low-key benign name “Walmart China Workers’ Association” (WCWA). The two men serve as coordinators of blogs and chat rooms, with the intention of providing a platform for workers to exchange information, particularly on legal knowledge. The internet discussions have given workers a sense of collective identity as Walmart workers. Though the network does not have any formal organizational structure, it is has become a powerful organizing tool.

 

 

A question has to be asked: why is it that since almost all Chinese workers now have mobile phones, other protests and strikes in China tend to take place at single workplaces. The difference is that Walmart workers have an unusual sense of common identity since the problems they face at Walmart stores are very similar to the minutest details. This identity is a product of Walmart’s unique corporate structure and management method and style. Walmart through the years has always tried to build up a personality cult around its founder, Sam Walton. All stores have the same organization structure, the same number of hierarchical levels, the same rules and regulations, all workers are given an English name, and they all have to scream the same Walmart Cheer in unison every day and have the same message drummed into them they are “Walmart persons.” (沃爾瑪人). Even though many of the workers harbour a host of grievances against the company’s authoritarian management practices and low wages, they do think of themselves as Walmart workers. Walmart’s socialization process works, though not in the way Walmart would like it. This Walmart identity is also found in the United States. The American Walmart workers who organize themselves in a protest group call their association “Our Walmart”. In China, WCWA members have all shared similar experiences and speak the same Walmart language.


What sparked the Walmart strikes is a new company policy. In mid-May Walmart announced that it was going to use a “generalized work hour system”, which is very similar to American Walmart’s “open work hour system.” This allows extreme work hour flexibility. The Chinese Walmart workers were mortified. This would mean regular work hours are thrown out of the window and workers have to come to work anytime on call. Suddenly WCWA’s membership jumped to 10,000.



WCWA is not the first effort to organize workers at China Walmart. In 2006, Andy Stern, the president of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), the biggest union in the US, was launching an international campaign against Walmart, and for its own reasons China’s official union, the ACFTU, was receptive. That year the ACFTU was under strong pressure from the Chinese government to deal with a rising number of strikes in the country. To gain influence among the workers, he ACFTU decided to do what it had not done since the 1950s: organize workers. The ACFTU experimented with organizing Walmart workers “underground”. In less than two months, without Walmart’s knowledge, the ACFTU was able to set up close to twenty democratically elected Walmart union branches. But afterthe ACFTU publicized what it had done and demanded that, under Chinese law, Walmart must accept the union branches, Walmart cut a deal with the ACFTU.  A memorandum of understanding (MOU) was signed with Walmart to set up union branches in all of Walmart’s 100-plus stores with Walmart’s active participation. Since then, Walmart union branches have been staffed by Walmart human resource (HR) managers.


Nevertheless, the initial 2006 spate of democratic union-branch elections had unintended consequences. Workers who had participated in those elections and are still working in Walmart stores want to get back their union. Not surprisingly, the main labour activists today in the WCWA are in their mid-forties. Other Walmart workers know that their own stores have union branches and they have some idea about trade unionism, even if their branches are being chaired by Walmart’s managerial staff. As wages and work conditions declined at Walmart, a few of them have tried to run for union election. Walmart management, with the tacit support of the official local unions, put all types of obstacles in their way.


In its campaign WCWA is very insistent in pursuing the ACFTU at national, provincial and city levels to support them in the fight against Walmart, because ten years ago they had helped workers set up democratic workplace union branches.


Pressured by the WCWA, People’s Daily and the Guangdong Provincial Trade Union announced that retailers such as Walmart are not eligible to use the comprehensive working hour system. But district-level trade unions and labour inspection offices continue to ignore these announcements. This is because in the Chinese political structure, their real superior is the local government, which is interested in attracting foreign investments and thus colludes with factory owners. But the two announcements gave the Walmart workers’ struggle legitimacy. Right now the activist workers are bringing their cases to court. WCWA is calling on the international labour community to support them in fighting this battle.

 

Anita Chan, a specialist on Chinese labour issues, is editor of The China Journal and a visiting research fellow at the Australian National University. She has published nine books and more than a hundred academic articles about China. Her books include, as editor, Walmart in China, Cornell University Press, 2011. .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)
Wukan Village, a cry for democracy from the grassroots in China

24

Dec 2016

 

Wukan, a small village in Lufeng, Guangdong, became the focus of China politics again. Five years ago, large scale farmers’ protest broke out due to land dispute in Wukan village. More than 4,000 people went on the street, eventually forcing the Chinese communist regime to give in and allowed villagers to elect their village chief with equal and anonymous vote. Lin Zuluan, leader of the farmers’ protest and twice elected as the chairman of villagers’ committee, was taken away by police for “accepting bribery” in June this year. In September, Lin was sentenced to prison for 3 years and 1 month. The verdict has led to another large scale protest by the villagers.

 

Local government crackdown on elected village chief

The “Wukan Village Model” was once considered as an example of rational response to public demand for democracy by the Chinese government, a milestone of bottom up democratic development. But this new hope did not last long.  After being elected as the chairman of villagers’ committee, Lin Zuluan has vowed to take back villagers’ land unlawfully occupied or sold, but for years the demand did not receive response from the local government. Experts pointed out that many of the local officials, together with many other powerful people, were involved in the unlawful occupation and sale of farmers’ land, and that was why the local government did not want to touch on this sensitive issue.


With nowhere to turn to, Lin Zuluan planned to make a petition to higher level government with the villagers. But just before the date of their planned action, he was arrested for accusations made up by the police. In fact, before Lin Zuluan was arrested, two vice-chairpersons of the villager’s committee were arrested, and another member of villagers’ committee was seeking asylum from the USA government. The actions of the local government were to stop the Wukan villagers from demanding justice from the corrupted officials, which triggered large scale protest by the villagers. 

 

Accusations made up on villagers

The incident in Wukan village has outraged the villagers, who went on strike in the market and schools. A “marathon” rally of 80 days was organized in the village.  On 13 September, a large troop of armed police and public security entered the village. After serious conflict with the villagers in protest, the police dispersed the villagers with tear gas and plastic bullets, and arrested 13 villagers in home raid at dawn.  According to the public security office of Lufeng, these villagers were arrested for participating in unauthorized assembly, rally and protest, and have seriously disrupted public order. The local authority warned the villagers “not to be agitated by the unlawful ones, stop participating in unlawful assembly, rally and protest”. After the crackdown, the local government drove away Chinese and foreign media to blockade the news. Five reporters from Hong Kong were detained and beaten up by police during detention.

Comparing to the Chinese central government under Hu Jingtao’s leadership which sent communist party committee of Guangdong Province to Wukan to mediate the situation in 2011, Xi Jinping’s used high-handed approach to Wukan as if he was dealing with close enemies. The all-round crackdown in Wukan and unlawful arrest of human right activists and lawyers by central and local governments are indicators that China is entering iron-fist era under the Xi leadership.

 

Right to independent and autonomous organization

Incidents related to land disputes are happening daily in Mainland China, and Wukan is just a tip of the iceberg. According to the Institute of Sociology of Academia Sinica, among the 200,000 cases of large scale protests, nearly half of them were related to land disputes. Wukan was once considered a new model in practicing grassroots democratic election, which could hopefully be promoted in other villages for check and balance of local bullies. But the cruel reality told us the “Wukan Village Model” is still part of the “bird cage election” of the Communist Party of China. The chairman of villagers’ committee, though elected through universal suffrage by the villagers, was still under the leadership and surveillance of chief of village party branch. Leaders of county and provincial government have vested interest in a complicated network with local bullies, which prevented them from delegating actual power, making elected representatives at grassroots a nominal position.  


The failure of democratization of village elections is very similar to reform of grassroots unions in recent years. Though some grassroots unions have undergone “reform” and elected their workers’ representatives, there were repeated cases of reducing power or replacing representatives by the higher level unions. If the Chinese government does not open up right to free association and organization, democratic reforms at the grassroots would only become a tool for whitewashing and maintaining stability.

Johnson Electric neglecting occupational health

24

Dec 2016

Leukemia victim came to HK calling for compensation

 
Johnson Electric (HKG 0179) is one of the world’s largest manufacturers in motion subsystems and components for automotive and industrial applications, supplying to a number of well-known brands such as Audi, Porsche, BMW, etc. While claiming, as shown on its website, that ‘No harm to people working for us wherever we operate’ is one of their specific Environmental, Health and Safety goals, its words and performance surely lack consistency. A number of employees and former employees of Huaseng Motor (Guangdong) Limited in Shenzhen, a subsidiary manufacturer of Johnson Electric, have contracted leukemia due to prolonged exposure to hazardous chemicals (benzene) and lack of adequate protection equipment provided in workplace. Huaseng has also refused to compensate for statutory medical expenses and pay for original wages and welfare benefits as required by law.

 

On 14 July, 2016, three Leukemia victims (Xie Fengping, Zeng Shumei, Zhou Xiuhua) came to Hong Kong to protest against Johnson Electric at their Annual General Meeting demanding the company to immediately address and take responsibilities regarding the precarious Occupational Health and Safety conditions.

 

 

Victims in deep debt, weltering in tears

After working for five years at Huaseng from 2008, Xie was diagnosed with leukemia (acute myeloid leukemia subtype M2, AML-M2) in late 2013. In October 2015, Guangdong Prevention and Treatment Center for Occupational Diseases confirmed her condition as occupational cancer caused by Benzene exposure. As pointed out by her husband, Mr. Lan, after her diagnosis, Huaseng has been failing to pay the original wage as required by law and refusing to compensate for medical expenses beyond health insurance. ‘Where did the sense of ethics and responsibilities go’, he denounced.


Another worker Zeng Shumei who worked for the company from August 2009 was also diagnosed with acute leukemia M2 in 2013. Despite the diagnosis provided by Guangdong Prevention and Treatment Center for Occupational Diseases, the company has been deliberately delaying the submission of relevant information as an attempt to obstruct the assessment process. ‘I completely broke down and almost committed suicide’, Zeng said tearfully. She worked 11 hours a day in the Graphite workshop, with frequent contacts to soldering flux and white mineral oil. Now that she has been diagnosed, she needs to borrow ¥350,000 in order to cover her medical expenses, and in the meantime, she also needs to take care of her children and aged parents. ‘Every day in hospital, I welter in tears,’, she wiped.


Zhou Xiuhua, was another male worker who was diagnosed with acute leukemia M4 and is now undergoing chemotherapy. His occupational disease diagnosis assessment process was also procrastinated by Huaseng. His wife, a former employee of Huaseng, told us that Huaseng has never contained in labour contracts the potential health-threatening occupational diseases, nor has it provided protection equipment or safety training. The company refused to compensate, and now the family has no choice but to borrow money for her husband’s treatment.

 

Invisible killer Benzene; Tip of the victim iceberg

Benzene is a type of petrochemical material widely used for producing lubricating oil, thinner, paint, cleaning agent, industrial solvent, etc. Benzene is highly volatile and most exposure can be transmitted through skin and inhalation. Acute occupational exposure to benzene may cause headache, dizziness, drowsiness, palpitation acceleration, tremors and loss of consciousness and a long-term exposure could lead to blood related diseases, including leukemia, neutropenia and severe anemia, etc. The three workers from Johnson Electric only constitute the tip of victim iceberg. According to Zhou’s wife, there were at least six other workers in Huaseng had contracted leukemia. Moreover, Labour Action China (LAC) has pointed out that, in recent years, the number of occupational disease victims in China has risen exponentially and there were many cases received from Toys, Automobile Parts and Electronic Parts manufacturing sectors. Unfortunately, some of the victims in these cases already passed away due to the disease. Not only did the companies stall diagnosis processes, they were also in arrears with the salary, health insurance and medical compensations. Collusions between local governments and companies, and the deficient system, put the workers in desperation.


After the press conference, the three workers and their families, together with representatives of CTU and LAC, protested at the Johnson Electric Annual General Meeting in demanding the company to take responsibilities and make compensation. During the protest, the workers and their families repeatedly demanded the CEO of the company, Dr. Patrick Wang to address the problem Dr. Wang did not receive the workers on the occasion. The company only sent Ms. Kristie Leung, the general manager from its human resources department, to receive the petition letter. The HKCTU and LAC will continue to assist the workers in their demands and lobby Johnson Electric to terminate the use of benzene and other toxic chemicals.

Chinese and Hong Kong civil societies

06

Jun 2016

are interconnected beyond borders

 
Shortly before the 27th anniversary of Tiananmen Square Massacre, the Hong Kong Federation of Students decided to quit the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China despite being one of its founding members. The Alliance is the chief organizer of the annual vigil and march in Hong Kong to commemorate the Tiananmen Square Massacre and has been upholding “building a democratic China” as one of her principal goals. But such a goal is no longer a collective aspiration shared among all student organizations. Many students believe that Hong Kong people should prioritize their goal in building a democratic Hong Kong rather than a democratic China since Hong Kong is in dire straits. So, is “building a democratic China” really outdated?

 

Indeed, there is no doubt that Hong Kong is in dire straits. The Chinese Central Government has brutally broken its promise to give Hong Kong people genuine universal suffrage and kept intervening the internal affairs of Hong Kong. Chinese authorities were sent from the other side of the border to abduct publishers in Hong Kong. Obviously, the “one country-two systems” has turned into nothing more than a broken promise. In the past, the democratic camp in Hong Kong would demand the Chinese Government to keep her promise of “high degree of autonomy”. However, all these demands have turned into bubbles. On the other hand, the emergence of xenophobic nativism in recent years advocates a complete cut off from China and calls for full independence. However, under the current trend in “one country taking over two systems”, nativism also offers no way out. Despite their different demands, the traditional democratic camp and the xenophobic nativist groups are both restricted by their obsessions in “Hong Kong and China division”.

 


Obviously, if the current Chinese regime continues her autocratic rule, there is no room for Hong Kong to pursue democracy. Thus, to build a democratic China is no longer an old fashioned goal, but a solution for serious consideration. Likewise, it should not exist simply as a slogan. How to turn it into actions, to support the ever-growing civil resistance in China, is exactly what the Hong Kong democratic movement should look into and get involved.


In China, more and more common people have joined collective actions, to defend their rights when they become victims of corruption, environmental pollution, forced land seizure and labour rights violations, which are the by-products of China’s rapid economic growth in past years. Taking labour movement as an example, China Labour Bulletin, a Hong Kong based NGO estimated that in 2015, there were 2,944 strikes in China, a 10 times growth in just a few years. These collective actions, not only have stopped certain vicious exploitations, but also helped certain groups of people in developing their rights awareness. Relatively independent civil society organizations have come into existence in the fields of environmental rights, human rights, religious rights, women’s rights, labour rights and etc. in the last decade. They continued to struggle for breathing space in between grey areas to test the tolerance of the authority. With their continuous participation in collective actions, they have accumulated certain social support.


Since Xi Jinping took office, the Chinese Government has taken a heavy-handed approach to suppress the civil society. In March 2015, it launched sweeping arrests, targeting many activists of women’s rights and labour rights, human rights lawyers and etc. This marks the “political dead-end” of civil society movement, which has been tolerated by the authority in the past. It is obvious that Xi is anxious about the growth of civil resistance, especially when he sees the examples of Eastern Europe and Northern Africa. He is worried that civil resistance would evolve into a force of political opposition.


In April 2016, a court in Guangzhou handed down severe prison sentences to three Chinese citizens who showed their support to the Umbrella Movement in Hong Kong. Such sentences only indicate how paranoid the Chinese Government has become. If Hong Kong and Chinese resistance movement would join hands, domestically and internationally, it will threaten the governance of the current regime and becomes the regime’s worst nightmare. In fact, with a lack of experience and resources, many Chinese organizations have taken Hong Kong as a hub to seek local and international support. When Chinese organizations and their staff members were harassed, suppressed, or arbitrarily detained, the news would first travel to Hong Kong and subsequently release to the international community, which would then monitor the deeds of Chinese Government. Under this background, Chinese Government passed Regulations on the Administration of Foreign NGOs in April 2016, attempting to legally subdue foreign (including HK) support to Chinese organizations and isolate the latter.


If the democratic movement in Hong Kong is to turn its back to its Chinese counterpart, it means each of us will fight our own battle and might run the risk of getting insolated. On the contrary, if Hong Kong civil organizations would use its strength and break through the geographical barriers, to develop better linkage with Chinese civil society and bring in practical support, to help and guide them to an independent and self-sufficient approach, together we will become a democratic force to challenge the autocratic regime eventually.

Xi Jinping’s Battle to Rule:

06

Jun 2016

Interview with senior journalist Bruce Lui

 
Mr Bruce Lui, is a prominent journalist and a senior lecturer at the Hong Kong Baptist University. He used to serve as the Principal China Reporter of the Hong Kong Cable TV before switching to train the next generation of journalists. He continues to stand out for persistently seeking the hidden truths of contemporary Chinese politics. So when HKCTU invited him to speak at our “June 4 Forum”, Mr Lui immediately granted our wish as he has a clear conscience to expose the truths of the Xi Jinping’s regime to the Hong Kong people.

Growing up as a Party’s Crown Prince, “Xi Jinping’s logic of his governance can be best described as a top-down battle to defend his regime.” Mr Lui comments. The objective of this battle is to defend the power consolidated by their revolutionary fathers. After having meticulously studied the collapse of the Soviet Union, Xi considers that the decentralization of power, economic downturn, the rise of civil society and middle class were the forces that brought the Soviet Union down to her knees and gave birth to Colour Revolution. As a result, the master plan of his battle is to crush all potential challenges, no matter how insignificant they are. This explains why Xi is so eager to eliminate the power of other standing committee members in the Politburo since he came into power (such as weakening the functions of the Premier and Committee of Politics and Law). Furthermore, Xi attempts to subdue the civil society so as to prevent the potential risks of an economic downturn. In fact, the scale and scope of the suppression under Xi’s regime is far broader and deadlier than the two previous administrations. In 2015, the mass arrests of human rights’ lawyers was the deadliest of the same type of suppression over the years. Meanwhile, the crackdown of the labour activists later in the same year is also catastrophic.

 

Mr Lui believes, Xi’s power will further be consolidated after the 19th National Congress of the Communist Party, which will be held next year. Among the seven current standing committee members of the Politburo, all will have to retire except Xi himself and Premier Li Keqiang. Thus, Xi is expected to bring in more of his own henchmen into the Politburo to further strengthen his regime. At the same time, Xi has accumulated considerable political reputation among the general public from his anti-corruption campaign. Couple with China’s current economic power, it is expected that the current administration can continue to suppress civil society free of domestic and international pressure. In short, the civil society may face a dim future as Xi continues to pursue his political battle and expand its political censorship.


Regarding the nativism movement in Hong Kong, which has been fuelled in recent years; Mr Lui emphasizes that since Hong Kong has strong institutional, geographical, and cultural tides with the Mainland, it is impossible to isolate Hong Kong from the ongoing changes in China’s political landscape. In such a chaotic time, Hong Kong people would find themselves losing out if they are unable to gain a better understanding of China. For example, the National Security Law (2015) has clearly defined areas of national security. So in future, if the legislation of Article 23 of Basic Law is introduced in Hong Kong, we could only do it under the framework already laid down by the National Security Law. Thus, Hong Kong people should know China better to counter the Chinese Government’s tactic to subdue “One Country Two Systems”. Although he was often labelled as a “moron who supports Greater China” (a term often used by the nativists to insult people who are concerned about China issues), but Mr Lui would continue to expose the hidden truths of the Chinese regime with reasons and facts, to enrich our knowledge in fighting against the battle initiated by Xi Jinping.

Chronicle of Suppression against Civil Society in Recent Years

05

Jun 2016

 

2014


Since 2014, top provincial official, Xia Bolong, strictly implemented a “Three Rectifications and One Demolition” campaign in Zhejiang Provincial, which was the centre of Chinese Christian Churches, to demolish crosses or churches. Up to date, more than 2000 crosses were demolished or removed, influencing several hundred religious sites.

 

On January 2014, Xu Zhiyong, the key proponent of the New Citizens’ Movement in China was found guilty and was sentenced to four years in prison for "gathering crowds to disrupt public order." by the Beijing No 1 Intermediate People’s Court.

 

On April 24th, 2014, a Chinese journalist, Gao Yu, was arrested. On November 26th, 2015, the Beijing's high court reduced the sentence of Gao from seven years to five years in prison and deprived her of political rights for one year in an appealing trial.

 

On June 13th, 2014, human rights defense lawyer Pu Zhiqiang was arrested by the Beijing police on suspicion of "creating disturbances and illegally obtaining personal information.” In December 2015, he was given a suspended three-year prison sentence. In April of the following year, he was disbarred by the Justice Bureau of Beijing.

 

2015


On January 1st, 2015, French "Le Nouvel Observateur" Beijing correspondent, Ursula Gauthier, was expelled from China.

 

From March 6th to 7th, 2015, five feminists Wu Rongrong, Zheng Churan, Li Tingting, Wang Man and Wei Tingting were arrested. The five was later released on April 13th in the same year.

 

On May 30th, 2015, Guangzhou labour activist and former member of Workers’ Autonomous Federation, Liu Shaoming, has been arrested and detained until now. The authority charged Liu with“Inciting Subversion of State Power.”The trial was ended on April 15th, 2016 without a verdict. 

 

On July 1st, 2015, the National People's Congress passed the “National Security Law of the People's Republic of China” (New Security Law) to further expand the scope of the definition of state security. And the law clearly stipulated to adhere to the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party (Article 4 of Chapter 1 and Article 15 of Chapter 2). In other words, it integrates the safety of CCP into state security. 

 

Since the first half of July 2015, hundreds of Chinese lawyers, social activists, petitioners and relatives of rights defenders were suddenly being arrested, subpoenaed and criminally detained by the police. Some of them are still missing nowadays. The number of people who were criminally detained, taken away, gone missing, interrogated, subpoenaed or temporarily lost of freedom were countless and spread out to more than 23 provinces.

 

From December 3rd to 5th, 2015, a large scale of government suppression against labour organizations in Guangzhou occurred. At least four labour organizations with a total of 25 staff and volunteers were detained and interrogated by the police. Seven of them were even detained for a long period or missing. Up to date, two of them were still under detention.

 

 

2016


On January 1st, 2016, famous pastor Joseph Gu of the state-sanctioned Chongyi Church in Zhejiang Province was detained on suspicion of “embezzling funds”. According to Reuters, he was arrested after his opposition against the removal of church crucifixes.

 

On January 29th, 2016, a registered church pastor in Shuzhen City of Zhejiang Province, Ji Hua, was placed under criminal detention along with his wife Zhang by the county police and charged with accepting bribes and embezzlement. 

 

On April 8th, 2016, The People’s Procuratorate of Guangzhou convicted supporters of umbrella movements, Xie Wen Fei, Wong Mo, and Zhang Sheng of “inciting subversion of state power”. Wang Mo and Xie Wenfei were sentenced to four-and-a-half years while Zhang Shengyu received four years on the same charge. They will be deprived of political rights for three years.

 

On April 28th, 2016, the National People’s Congress approved the “Law of the People's Republic of China on the Administration of Activities of Overseas Non-Governmental Organizations within the Territory of China” to strengthen the state control on NGOs including source of fund and the areas of activities, that further suppresses civil society in mainland China. The law will be effective on January 1st, 2017.

 

 

 

 

Liu Shaoming was Charged for

04

Jun 2016

“Inciting Subversion of State Power” with Articles Memorizing June 4th

 

57 year-old labour activist, Liu Shaoming, was charged for “inciting subversion of state power” by the Chinese Communist Party. His indictment was based on his two articles related to the 1989 Tiananmen Square Movement which were published in April 2015, as well as some messages posted on WeChat (Weixin). He was tried at an Intermediate People's Court in Guangzhou in mid-April of 2016. The trial ended within one day and a verdict is still pending. Until now, Liu has been taken away and criminally detained by the Guangzhou police for more than a year. Liu is not allowed to meet with his lawyer by the authority due to claims that he is a “repeated offender” and should be punished harshly. Liu’s defense lawyer objected all such allegations.

 

According to Wu Kuiming, one of Liu’s defense lawyers, all allegations placed by the authority were based on the contents of Liu’s speeches, which implies that Liu’s prosecution is “basically a charge against speeches.” Liu Shaoming pleaded his innocent in court and both Liu and his lawyer belief that he was simply exercising his rights to freedom of speech and did not constitute a criminal offence.


Lau Shaoming was a member of Workers’ Autonomous Federation who went to Beijing before June 4th, 1989 to support the students’ movement in Tiananmen Square. He had been charged by “counterrevolutionary propaganda and incitement,” and was sentenced to one year in prison and deprived of political rights for one year. In recent years, he participated in many workers’ right defending actions and formed a group namely, “Workers Defenders Volunteers” that supported more than 10 workers’ actions in many places such as the cleaning workers in the university districts of Guangzhou, Xinsheng Shoe Factory workers, and Guangzhou Citizen Watch Co. workers etc.


 

Bios of the Detained Chinese Labour Activists

Zeng Feiyang, director of the Panyu Workers Centre, gave up his career in a law firm and started to run a Non-governmental labour organization in Guangzhou since 2000. His organization provided legal aid and handled labour rights defending cases until his arrest on December 3, 2015. He has been charged with “Assembling a crowd to disturb social order” and refused the right to meet with his lawyer since his arrest.

 

Meng Han is a former staff of the Panyu Workers Centre. He was sentenced to nine months of imprisonment as one of the striking workers and workers' representative of the First Affiliated Hospital of Guangzhou Chinese Medicine University labour dispute. He joined the Panyu Workers Centre after his release. Meng was also arrested on December 3, 2015 and charged with “Assembling a crowd to disturb social order”. During his detention, his family has been repeatedly extorted by thugs.
Chinese and Hong Kong Civil Societies are Interconnected Beyond Borders

03

Jun 2016

 

Shortly before the 27th anniversary of Tiananmen Square Massacre, the Hong Kong Federation of Students decided to quit the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China despite being one of its founding members. The Alliance is the chief organizer of the annual vigil and march in Hong Kong to commemorate the Tiananmen Square Massacre and has been upholding “building a democratic China” as one of her principal goals. But such a goal is no longer a collective aspiration shared among all student organizations. Many students believe that Hong Kong people should prioritize their goal in building a democratic Hong Kong rather than a democratic China since Hong Kong is in dire straits. So, is “building a democratic China” really outdated?

 

Indeed, there is no doubt that Hong Kong is in dire straits. The Chinese Central Government has brutally broken its promise to give Hong Kong people genuine universal suffrage and kept intervening the internal affairs of Hong Kong. Chinese authorities were sent from the other side of the border to abduct publishers in Hong Kong. Obviously, the “one country-two systems” has turned into nothing more than a broken promise. In the past, the democratic camp in Hong Kong would demand the Chinese Government to keep her promise of “high degree of autonomy”. However, all these demands have turned into bubbles. On the other hand, the emergence of xenophobic localism in recent years advocates a complete cut off from China and calls for full independence. However, under the current trend in “one country taking over two systems”, nativism also offers no way out. Despite their different demands, the traditional democratic camp and the xenophobic nativist groups, are both restricted by their obsessions in “Hong Kong and China division”.

 

Obviously, if the current Chinese regime continues her autocratic rule, there is no room for Hong Kong to pursue democracy. Thus, to build a democratic China is no longer an old fashioned goal, but a solution for serious consideration. Likewise, it should not exist simply as a slogan. How to turn it into actions, to support the ever-growing civil resistance in China, is exactly what the Hong Kong democratic movement should look into and get involved.

 

In China, more and more common people have joined collective actions, to defend their rights when they become victims of corruption, environmental pollution, forced land seizure and labour rights violations, which are the by-products of China’s rapid economic growth in past years. Taking labour movement as an example, China Labour Bulletin, a Hong Kong based NGO estimated that in 2015, there were 2,944 strikes in China, a 10 times growth in just a few years. These collective actions, not only have stopped certain vicious exploitations, but also helped certain groups of people in developing their rights awareness. Relatively independent civil society organizations have come into existence in the fields of environmental rights, human rights, religious rights, women’s rights, labour rights and etc. in the last decade. They continued to struggle for breathing space in between grey areas to test the tolerance of the authority. With their continuous participation in collective actions, they have accumulated certain social support.

 

Since Xi Jinping took office, the Chinese Government has taken a heavy-handed approach to suppress the civil society. In March 2015, it launched sweeping arrests, targeting many activists of women’s rights and labour rights, human rights lawyers and etc. This marks the “political dead-end” of civil society movement, which has been tolerated by the authority in the past. It is obvious that Xi is anxious about the growth of civil resistance, especially when he sees the examples of Eastern Europe and Northern Africa. He is worried that civil resistance would evolve into a force of political opposition.

 

In April 2016, a court in Guangzhou handed down severe prison sentences to three Chinese citizens who showed their support to the Umbrella Movement in Hong Kong. Such sentences only indicate how paranoid the Chinese Government has become. If Hong Kong and Chinese resistance movement would join hands, domestically and internationally, it will threaten the governance of the current regime and becomes the regime’s worst nightmare. In fact, with a lack of experience and resources, many Chinese organizations have taken Hong Kong as a hub to seek local and international support. When Chinese organizations and their staff members were harassed, suppressed, or arbitrarily detained, the news would first travel to Hong Kong and subsequently release to the international community, which would then monitor the deeds of Chinese Government. Under this background, Chinese Government passed Regulations on the Administration of Foreign NGOs in April 2016, attempting to legally subdue foreign (including HK) support to Chinese organizations and isolate the latter.

 

If the democratic movement in Hong Kong is to turn its back to its Chinese counterpart, it means each of us will fight our own battle and might run the risk of getting insolated. On the contrary, if Hong Kong civil organizations would use its strength and break through the geographical barriers, to develop better linkage with Chinese civil society and bring in practical support, to help and guide them to an independent and self-sufficient approach, together we will become a democratic force to challenge the autocratic regime eventually.

5.1 Global Action Week

23

Apr 2016

Say NO to Labour Suppression

Labour organisations in Guangdong Province encountered a large-scale crackdown between the 3rd and 5th December 2015. At least 25 employees and volunteers from four labour organiszations were detained and questioned by the police and seven of them were put into prolonged custody or forced to “disappear”. After a series of global and Mainland local advocacy, four activists were released. Yet, Zeng Feiyang, director of Panyu Migrant Workers Centre, his colleague Meng Han and He Xiaobo, director of Foshan Nanfeiyan Social Work Centre, continue to be detained. The three detainees are all labour activists in Guangdong Province, who have been vocal in the labour movement in China. Thus, HKCTU and labour organisations launched a global action week, to urge global labour organisations to send postcards to the Chinese embassies, demanding the immediate release of the activists and a halt to the crackdown on civil society. Details of the action can be found at the link here: en.hkctu.org.hk

 

 

Forced TV confessions instead of a trial Zeng Feiyang’s condition remains unknown

Zeng Feiyang was detained on 3rd December 2015, on the charge of “assembling crowds to disrupt social order”. Since then, his rights to see his lawyer have been illegally denied and his condition remains unknown. The Chinese authorities have sentenced him without a trial. The official media Xinhua news agency published an article on the evening of 22nd December called “Exposing the hidden truth of “the star of labour movement”: investigation of the severe crimes committed by Zeng Feiyang, director of Panyu Migrant Workers Centre and others”. Zeng was involved in organising Lide Shoe Factory workers, who demanded the repayment of their missing social insurance and severance pay. Yet the state media accused him of, “making use of free rights defending services to accept overseas funding, severely disrupting social order and violating labour rights”. The media also adopted stigmatization to discredit Zeng, indicating that Zeng had used rights defending as a mean to gain sexual privileges and taken part in online nude chats and prostitution. The state media, China Central Television (CCTV) even came up with a 24-minute documentary to support the official story.


~ Zeng Feiyang Profile ~

Zeng graduated from the Department of Political Science and Law at South China Normal University in 1996 and joined a famous law firm, Guangdong Geenen Law Office. He was considered a young man with a bright future. During his time at the law firm, he often represented the employers in negotiation with workers, who were mainly victims of industrial accidents demanding compensation. Zeng felt very guilty about his work, knowing that these low-income migrant workers had lost their only capital, i.e. a healthy body and would not be fairly treated. He often thought about how they might survive the upcoming difficulties.


He used to say, “Workers should not be put in such a helpless position, but our society deliberately ignores their needs for legal assistance”. He felt that some people should stand out to help workers and this belief later led him to join the labour movement. While providing legal services, he kept the charges humble for injured workers and workers whose wages were missing. In 2000, he established a non-profit labour organization in Guangzhou City, Panyu Migrant Workers Centre. The centre has helped several thousands of migrant workers through legal assistance and representation. Zeng was once awarded with the “Charity Award” of the Responsible China 2012 Charity Ceremony, organized by Southern Metropolis Daily because of his enduring labour work.

 

 

He Xiaobo: diagnosed with benign liver tumours at detention centre and gave up his rights to hire lawyer in order to protect his wife

He Xiaobo: diagnosed with benign liver tumours at detention centre and gave up his rights to hire lawyer in order to protect his wife
According to a released detainee who met He Xiaobo in the detention centre, the police had threatened He that they would detain his wife Yang Min as well. Thus, He was forced to sign an agreement, promising not to hire a lawyer, in trade for Yang Min’s freedom. He’s first lawyer quit after being put under enormous pressure and his new lawyer, after many attempts, finally met him after three months of his detention.


He was diagnosed with benign liver tumours during a medical check-up at the detention centre. However, it is unclear if treatment takes place. He denied the charges of “embezzlement” and insisted that he did not violate any criminal laws. In the meantime, his wife Yang Min and young daughter are under house arrest and cannot pick up calls, after she sued Xinhua for defaming her husband in the above-mentioned article and called for support on social media. The family is being placed in a difficult situation.


~ He Xiaobo Profile ~

In 2006, He Xiaobo lost three fingers from his left hand as the result of an industrial injury in Foshan City. During the process to claim his rights, he developed the idea of establishing a non-profit organization to promote labour rights. In 2007, he realized his wish and established the first labour NGO in Foshan City, Nanfeiyan. Nanfeiyan was formally registered at the municipal-level Bureau of Civil Affairs in 2012. Over the years, more than 30,000 workers injured at work have been assisted and trained with labour-related laws and regulations. Almost 10,000 victims succeeded in claiming their compensation as entitled by law. Both Nanfeiyan and He Xiaobo himself have been repeatedly awarded and honoured by local governments for their charitable services.


A cleaner who once received help from He Xiaobo described, “workers have no place to speak, it is just like we don’t need food. Someone helped us in safeguarding our rights and we have just started to learn a bit about law and he is taken away… what kind of society is it? Why must they detain the guy who brings justice? We need He Xiaobo. We need someone who believes in law, fairness and justice. We believe that Xiaobo is innocent.”

P.S. : He Xiaobo was released on bail on 7 April, 2016.


 

Meng Han: continuous interrogations and requested to accuse Zeng Feiyang

According to Meng Han, he was abducted by some 20 plain-clothes police officers from his home on 3rd December 2015. When he asked to see the police’s search warrant, the police took out a piece of blank paper and wrote something on it. Meng refused to sign on such a “warrant”. Since his detention, he was interrogated successively for 16 days in a row. He was only allowed to sleep two to three hours per day. The questions mainly covered two topics: the operation of Panyu Migrant Workers Centre and the strike at Lide Shoe Factory. The police assumed that Meng had led, promoted and fuelled the labour dispute and demanded that Meng accuse Zeng Feiyang in order to be given a lenient sentence. Meng refused such bait and denied the accusations.

Meng Han (black shirt in the middle and holding a water bottle)
and three workers’ representatives from Guangzhou University
of Chinese Medicine were released after nine months of detention.
 
~ Meng Han Profile~

Meng was a ship captain in a state-owned enterprise for 17 years. After losing that job, he became a security guard at the First Affiliate Hospital of Guangzhou University of Chinese Medicine in 2010, through a labour dispatch agency. He organized actions with his colleagues, to demand for equal pay for equal work and rights to join the trade union. In 2013, the hospital suddenly dismissed more than 100 workers, including medical helpers it had directly employed and contracted security guards. Meng was the first workers’ representative at the negotiation. Although he succeeded in getting the hospital to compensate its medical helpers a total of four million Yuan, and compensation for some security guards, he was charged with “assembling crowds to disrupt social order” and sentenced to nine months.


He was released in April 2014 and felt determined that he would dedicate his future to defending labour rights. He joined Panyu Migrant Workers Centre and assisted workers to fight for their rights. “My worker’s awareness might have been awoken at that time. My colleagues and even hospital workers recognized my ability in various aspects, which made me believe, I could do more for workers.”


 

He is ill and I am in tears

21

Apr 2016

Editor: This article was written by Yang Min, wife of He Xiaobo, to talk about He Xiaobo’s health problem. Yang was under house arrest from 22nd February to 16th March 2016, with state security officers stationed at her home to monitor her. Yang has not received any official document about lifting the house arrest until now.

 

Many have said that romantic love between two persons will turn into affection after some time. But I still believe our love will last forever. Honestly, I cannot possibly express how worried I am now.


I have learned and even got used to hiding my feelings since my time living at my aunt’s and uncle’s home, and so an invisible gap is always there between me and my family. It is only with Xiaobo that I can reveal all my feelings and be free. However now that he is detained and ill, I do not know how to face this. I can only hide again in my own tiny shell.  

 

 

Xiaobo has not been allowed to see his lawyer since his detention and we have no means to tell him that we are still fine. Luckily he could still tell me about his condition, with the help from other released detainees. Today his friend N, who has been released recently, came and told me that he had been diagnosed with benign liver tumours. This is the first time I heard that he is ill. Although N said his condition was not too bad, my heart is filled with fear. N described him as homesick. The state security officers threatened him to sign an agreement to give up his rights to hire lawyers and said “your wife will be detained if you don’t sign”. What did he do wrong? He was only helping injured workers to get back their legal compensation. But what did it bring him? Successive interrogations, psychological abuse, various threats from the state security and an illness which is not properly treated. Who is this corrupt system and regime protecting?

 


I urge the Foshan Public Security Bureau to allow He Xiaobo to meet his lawyer and the Nanhai District Detention Centre to release his medical report. I also call for your support, to phone the Nanhai District Detention Centre and ask for the disclosure of his medical condition. Thank you!

Source: Abstracts from Yang Min’s Internet Postings
Civil societies in China and Hong Kong unite to resist subjugation

21

Apr 2016

 
Civil society organizations in China and Hong Kong have been undergoing ever-growing suppression since Xi Jinping, the Chinese President, and Leung Chun-ying, the Chief Executive of Hong Kong, took office. In Hong Kong, ongoing social struggles have continued to take place since the Umbrella Movement. Yet the Hong Kong Government refuses to acknowledge the opposition and keeps pushing for policies and measures which are violating the people’s will. In China, since March 2015, women’s rights activists, human rights lawyers and recently labour activists have been detained. This appears to be the largest wave of suppression in Chinese civil society since the 1989 Tiananmen Massacre. In an unusual move to raise their concerns regarding the legislation of the Foreign NGO Management Law, the governments of the U.S., Canada, Germany, and Japan submitted a joint appeal to Chinese Government in early January 2016, while the European Union followed suit one day later. This Law aims to strengthen the government’s control over the foreign NGOs in China.

 

The importance of a united front

We have to be aware that we are facing an autocracy and capitalists who control most of the resources in our society. Thus, a united front of civil society is particularly crucial. In fact, there are numerous examples to demonstrate such a united front between civil society in China and Hong Kong. During the Umbrella Movement in Hong Kong, some activists from China risked their liberty and spoke out for the Hong Kong activists. Some even came to Hong Kong to show their support. As a result, a number of activists have been detained and some have not been allowed to walk free since then. Similarly, the Hong Kong dockworkers’ strike in April 2013 inspired fellow dockworkers in Shenzhen Yantian Port, who also worked under Hutchison Whampoa Group to launch a strike the following September. The strike led to Hutchison Whampoa Group improving their poor working conditions.

 


In December 2015, the Chinese Government accused labour activists in Guangzhou of severely disturbing social order by accepting foreign support over a prolonged period and detained seven of them. Besides support from Chinese workers, labour unions and organizations in Hong Kong also exercised their freedom of association and expression, to mobilize the international community and media. The pressure finally caused the Chinese Government to release five of them. These cases indicate that regardless of geographic boundaries, united force between different classes can effectively push for development, as civil society organizations in China and Hong Kong can influence and learn from each other’s experience. The governments’ recent suppression might be a sign that they are worried about the united force of civil society.

 


The reason for stirring up the Sino-Hong Kong conflicts

However, the current challenge in Hong Kong is due to the government’s inability to address public discontent, some Hong Kong people are more inclined to vent their anger through protectionism and nativism, which reject all connections between Hong Kong and China. But such a phenomenon will only undermine the solidarity between civil societies in China and Hong Kong and it will only make us wonder, “Who is the actual beneficiary from such disintegration?

Both the United Nations and International Trade Union Confederation are concerned:

21

Apr 2016

the ITUC files a complaint against the Chinese Government’s detention of labour activists

 
Since late 2015, Chinese labour activists have been arbitrarily detained and prosecuted and created enormous concern from the international community. More than 200 trade unions and labour organisations around the world have signed a joint petition and numerous national unions have participated in the global action day, to call for the release of the detained activists. The United Nations (UN) and the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) have released statements respectively, condemning the Chinese Government for its abuse of fundamental human rights. The ITUC recently complained at the International Labour Organization (ILO), about the Chinese Government’s violation of ILO Convention No. 87. This was the first formal complaint that it has made since 2002.

 

Mr Al Hussein, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights pointed out in the statement, “We are seeing a very worrying pattern in China that has serious implications for civil society and the important work they do across the country...Civil society actors, from lawyers and journalists to NGO workers, have the right to carry out their work, and it is the States’ duty to support and protect them.”

 

 

ITUC General Secretary Sharan Burrow said, “China should release those who have been detained simply for standing up for the rights of Chinese workers, and allow legitimate non-governmental organisations seeking to help workers to do their work unhindered. China has responsibilities under international law, and it must acknowledge and respect those responsibilities.”


The ITUC has lodged a Freedom of Association complaint at the ILO over the Chinese Government’s detention of the labour rights defenders. According to this convention, workers should have the right to join organisations of their own choosing without previous authorization, to elect their representatives in full freedom, to organise their administration and activities and to formulate their programmes. The real reason for this wave of crackdowns is labour activists’ participation in helping workers to organise large scale industrial actions. On 22 December 2015, without any trial, Xinhua News Agency and China Central Television openly accused Zeng Feiyang, the director of Panyu Migrant Workers Centre as the mastermind behind the labour action at Lide Shoe Factory, with “deceptive means” to “incite workers to make trouble”. Zeng Feiyan and two other detained labour activists, Tang Jian and Meng Han, have indeed assisted workers from Lide Shoe Factory to elect workers’ representatives, conducted training and raised strike funds. Yet, they have never done anything beyond the roles of a labour organisation. The suppression clearly indicates that the Chinese Government is violating workers’ freedom of association, a fundamental labour right.

 


Moreover, Chung Chung-fai, chairman of the China Labour Rights Group at HKCTU said that HKCTU would continue to tackle certain cases, where the Chinese Government continuously violates ILO Convention No. 98, on right to collective bargaining. ILO Convention No.98 guarantees workers’ rights to organise at their workplace, without the interference and control from employer and government. However, Article 4 and Article 5 of China’s Trade Union Law require Chinese workers to obey “the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party” and “assist the People’s Government in conducting its work”. The Trade Union Law also gives the upper level union the legitimacy to control and lead the lower level unions. With all these restrictions, lower level unions could never possibly operate independently and trade union leaders are mostly appointed by the management. In short, a trade union must follow the Chinese Government’s policy of stability maintenance closely.


Lee Cheuk-yan, General Secretary of the HKCTU also criticised the way that, despites its role as a workers’ member of the ILO Governing Body, the ACFTU has failed to speak for the labour activists and labour organisations which are under attack. It is obvious that it is still a yellow trade union and a puppet controlled by the Chinese Government after all.

Workplace as battlefield

04

Mar 2016

Chemical poisoning & carcinogens are killing workers quietly

It is often reported that workers suffer from occupational diseases as they have worked in vile working conditions without adequate protective measures. According to the ILO, 6,400 people are killed in industrial accidents or by occupational diseases each day, in other words, each year, occupational hazards cost the lives of 2.3 million workers globally. Such a death toll is compatible to a full-scale war.1 Among the occupational hazards, occupational leukaemia, caused by exposure to toxic chemicals is the second leading killer in China. For example, Zou Xiuhua suffers from leukemia after working less than two years in Johnson Electric’s (HKG 0179) plant in Shenzhen City. Chen, another worker at Qilitian Golf Articles (Shenzhen) Co. shares the same fate, as he has worked with toxic chemicals over a long time.

 

 

 
The link between leukemia and occupation

According to the ILO standards and China’s Law on Prevention and Treatment of Occupational Diseases, leukemia in relation to occupational exposures to toxic chemicals or job nature is categorised as an occupational disease. In August 2015, Chinese media reported that in the past five years, cases of leukemia caused by occupational exposures to benzene have increased by 7.3 times in Guangdong Province.2 Huang Hanlin, the director of Guangdong Prevention and Treatment Centre of Occupational Diseases told Nanfang Daily, “20 millions of workers in Guangdong work in hazardous conditions. Statistics shows that cases of occupational diseases have gone up by 30% per year in recent years. The diagnosis of occupational cancers has increased each year. Currently, leukemia is the major diagnosis. If one works with benzene over a longer time, his chance to get leukemia is 26 times higher than others.” Benzene is used in many industries, such as shoe-making, in adhesive of packaging, furniture paints, in petrochemical industry where benzene is produced and even workers at the gas station may also be exposed to low doses of benzene 3.

 

How does benzene enter the body?

Wang Qian, director of Hematology department of Tung Wah Hospital told Southern Metropolis Daily, “if benzene exists in one’s workplace or living place, it can enter the body through inhaling or skin contacts. It will poison the blood production system and lead to leukemia.”4

 
 
Diagnosis and compensation: a long battle for workers

Xiuhua, a worker from Johnson Electric who suffers from leukaemia, revealed that the factory was equipped with bad ventilation system and poor protective measures. Workers were only given earplugs and gloves, which could not protect them from toxic chemicals. Xiuhua needed to work directly with motor oil, such a prolonged exposure to toxic chemicals increased his chance to contract occupational diseases. He had asked the factory to provide face masks but the factory refused, saying it had not enough face masks for workers. In the end, Xiuhua contracted leukemia.


When he was undergoing his second chemotherapy, he met three other leukemia victims from Johnson Electric and started to suspect their disease was work-related. He joined other workers to claim compensation from the factory, but encountered many obstructs during the process to get their occupational diseases verified. His two applications to appraise his occupational diseases were both rejected: firstly, the factory refused to provide materials for his diagnosis and the relevant government departments refused to provide the report of working environment; secondly, the Prevention and Treatment Centre of Occupational Diseases turned down his application to appraise his occupational diseases as he did not meet the requirement of “long term close contact with benzene”. A NGO organiser, known as Guo (pseudonym) found it unfair and helped Xiuhua to appeal. “The legal requirement of long term close contact with benzene is one year or above. Xiuhua has worked in Johnson Electric for 1 year 4 months. How could it say that Xiuhua is not qualified to go through the appraisal process?” After several appeals, Xiuhua’s case is now being handled by the Occupational Disease Diagnosis Appraisal Committee. Usually, it takes over a year for the Committee to deliver its judgement and it would make Xiuhua’s life very difficult. The factory knew that Xiuhua had not got his occupational disease appraised and it stopped paying for his medical treatment since April 2013. Xiuhua could only borrow money to continue his fight, now he has had a debt of over RMB 400,000.


Chen worked in the polishing department of Qilitian Golf Articles (Shenzhen) Co. and got leukemia through inhaling toxic detergent over a long time. In a workshop on occupational diseases organised by the HKCTU, workers like Chen described their working conditions and hardship in trying to hold their employers accountable. Workers pointed out that employers had neither provided training on work safety, nor informed them about the toxicity involved in their jobs. Before 2008, the factory only provided dust masks to workers, which are not respirators and could not protect them from inhaling toxic chemicals. Though the factory later improved its protective gears, it refused to compensate sick workers and was found to owe workers’ social insurance premiums. When workers fell sick and demanded to get their occupational diseases diagnosed, the factory would delay and refuse to go through the process. Instead, it lobbied the workers to make secret deals and used relocation, wages deduction to force workers to leave. Avoidance of responsibility is the factory’s only strategy.

 

 

Prevention and treating occupational diseases as a corporate and social responsibility
Workers with occupational cancers, like Chen and Xiuhua, face countless obstructs when they fight for compensation and medical treatment. In order to uphold their corporate social responsibility, major brands should proactively supervise the working conditions and labour rights in their suppliers’ factories and refuse to make business with exploitative suppliers. The government should implement the Law on Prevention and Treatment of Occupational Diseases effectively, strengthen its supervision on working environment and safety training, conduct regular body checks for workers to ensure workers are informed of their occupational diseases as early as possible. The government should also make sure employers pay for all necessary compensation and medical fees. The HKCTU will continue to monitor and lobby through different channels, to urge multinational companies and listed companies to disclose its behaviour to the public. For example, labour conditions and work safety measures in Johnson Electric, a Hong Kong listed company, its subsidiaries and suppliers’ factories, should have been disclosed and been put in the public gaze.

 

1.  ILO Director-General: Building a culture of prevention on occupational safety and health, retrieved from http://www.ilo.org/global/about-the-ilo/who-we-are/ilo-director-general/statements-and-speeches/WCMS_363178/lang--en/index.htm
2.  Southern Metropolis Daily, 25 August 2015,“Growth in leukemia cases in Dongguan, a social worker discovered 85 cases of occupational leukemia in 7 years”「東莞白血病發病上升  社工7年發現85人患職業性白血病」, accessed from http://big5.southcn.com/gate/big5/dg.southcn.com/content/2015-08/25/content_131404277_2.htm
3.  Nanfang Daily, 26 November 2014,“30% of annual growth in occupational diseases victims in Guangdong”「廣東職業病發病人數年增30%」, accessed from People's Net, http://gd.people.com.cn/BIG5/n/2014/1126/c123932-23012961.html
4.  Same as footnote 2.

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