Position and Analysis

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.
The marginalization of sick workers in China—

04

Mar 2016

an interview with Dr. Ho Wing Chong

 

The sick workers in China are the most vulnerable group whose life is located outside the “normal” political, economic and cultural practices, and hence is rendered largely silent and unintelligible in the public realm, argued by Dr. Ho Wing Chong1, who has been constantly studying the experiences of Chinese sick workers, in his journal paper which was published in 20142. He pointed out that the sick workers has already uncompetitive in job market and consequently they lost the role as breadwinner for the family. It is as if sick workers are unable to uphold any roles in the society.

 

 

The experience of sick workers in China reflected a blind spot in the governance according to Dr. Ho. First of all, they physical health are damaged by the hazardous working environment. Secondly, they are deprived of legal rights for compensation and medical treatment. However, all these ultimate violations against the sick workers are lawful or justified by the current “social norms.”


What happen to Sau Hua and Xiao Chen are typical examples, said by Dr. Ho. The formal case showed that official occupational health hospital did not follow legal standard to do a diagnosis on leukemia for the case of Sau Hua. The latter case revealed how weak the supervision of law enforcement is. There are many stories similar to Sau Hua’s. The most famous one is Zhang Hai Chao who requested an open chest surgery to prove himself having pneumoconiosis instead of Tuberculosis. As for Sau Hau, what he could do now is to wait for the final review of the verification committee of occupational disease diagnosis. In Xiao Chen’s case, he got the diagnosis certificate but he could not get full compensation. The medical and governmental departments could easily interpreter the law to cover up all the above issues so that they are not held accountable for the mistakes and delays. On the other hand, the sick workers are forced to wait for several years to go through all the complicated procedures and appraisals from the employers, which are discouraging for workers to seek for compensation.


Dr. Ho concluded that law reform are not the solution to improve the conditions of the vulnerable and marginalized sick workers in China. They need supporters such as Labour NGOs to empower them to fight for justice. Nevertheless, the sick workers are deviants to the social stability in the eyes of Chinese government and they are victimized by tactics of maintaining stability. Not so many workers can persistently to fight under such pressure.

 

1.  Dr. Ho Wing Chong, Associate Professor of Department of Applied Social Studies of City University of Hong Kong
2.  Ho Wing Chong(2014), Biopolitics, occupational health and state power: the marginalization of sick workers in China, The China Quarterly, V 219, pp808-826, DOI: 10.1017/S0305741014000782
Two Important Issues on

04

Mar 2016

How to Let Chinese Workers Have Equal Share in Achieving Moderate Prosperity Society

 

"Moderate prosperity society" is continuously an economic and social development goal of the Chinese government for the next five-yearplan. Premier Li Keqiang made it clear that to attain this goal it is necessary to ensure economic growth, and to " let the people live a better life. Whether the people have a better quality and standard of life is a key indicator of a moderately prosperous society. " 1 In the past years, China has maintained a high growth of gross domestic product (GDP). Only a small number of the population are better off, but most of them do not share the fruit of economic success. Consequently, the disparity between the rich and the poor have been becoming more serious (Gini coefficient rose from 0.29 in 1980 to 0.52 in 2013). At the end of the day, whether the moderate prosperity society benefit a few people or most people? From the perspective of workers, there are two important issues to consider in order to advance the quality of life of worker and to ensure decent work in the thirteenth five-year plan of China.

 

What can the rank and file workers in the manufacturing sector get from economic transformation?

The official statistics revealed a lower productivity growth in 2015 and shrinking manufacturing sector. Facing the economic crisis, the government’s strategy is industrial upgrading.


In 2013, Xi Jinping aimed at replacing manufacturing-based secondary industry by domestic consumption driven tertiary industry as well as replacing the low-end industry by high-end industry. The past experience of Hong Kong proved that development of the financial and service sectors did not provide more job opportunities and job securities. Hong Kong's unemployment problem in the 1980s and 1990s were mainly because of factory relocation to mainland China. The proportion of manufacturing jobs in Hong Kong decreased from 35.8 percent in1986 to 9.75 in 2006. Since then, many semi-skilled and middle aged workers lost their jobs in the manufacturing sector. Most of them are female workers who had found it very difficult to get a new job in other sectors and ended up living in poverty. The job openings in the tertiary industries are either professional positions or non-skill and low-paying job2. Many workers has been suffering from long term low paid and irregular employment. If China is to repeat the same path of Hong Kong, how can it improve the living standard of the people?


On the other hand, the immediate impact of industrial upgrading is jobs cut with inadequate compensation. Starting from 2010, the number of strike in China has been doubled every year and reached to 1400 cases in 2014. Most strikes occurred in Pearl River Delta according to the Investigative Report on Labour Rights of HKCTU. It is reported that nearly 80% of strike were caused by factory closures and relocations, as well as weak enforcement of labour law and social insurance. The running away capitals are tolerated by local government which is really robbing the poor to pay the rich. As for the transition from low-end to high-end foundry industry, the vocational and technical training for workers are missing in the policy planning. How can workers see hope in the industrial upgrading?

 

 

 

Make a better life to the rural migrant population in urban areas

In 1978, the rural migrants in urban areas (rural household registration) accounted for 18% of the urban population. In 2014, the proportion of rural migrants had risen to 55%. The vast majority of them are migrant workers, however, affected by the social system, they are gaining lower than the urban population in terms of income and social security. GaveKal Dragonomics, a senior economic researcher found that rural household’s savings rate of the 40% lowest income population is only about 10%. Their total spending accounts for only a small part of the overall consumption of the mainland, which is about 17.5%. This is obviously because they earn less than half the national average3. In terms of social security, rural migrants are getting lower level health care and pension comparing to urban citizens and their children are not entitled to free education in the city.


How does the next five year plan reduce the inequality so as to improve the lives of low-income families? This question involves a fair wage levels and a fair allocation of social resources. Government needs to put into practice of wage system, social insurance and labour contract law to pursue labour rights, to eliminate rural and urban household divisions and to deal with labour dispute in a partial manner with a respect for the rights workers’ representatives in collective negotiation.

 

A participatory five-year plan

The above-mentioned problems are truisms. Reducing the income gap, providing basic social protection etc have been repeatedly stressed by the leaders of Chinese government in the past 10 years. Are the measures that were used by the government to deal with these issues the right remedy? How do the people participate in the process of making this influential five-year plan? "Social participation" is one of the goals in the 13th five year plan. Allowing manufacturing workers and rural migrants who are deeply affected by the economic policy to participate in policy-making and to take their opinions seriously helps to establish a more comprehensive strategy.

 

  1. Li Keqiang (2015), Objectives of building a moderately prosperous society, China's Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security (MOHRSS) http://www.mohrss.gov.cn/SYrlzyhshbzb/dongtaixinwen/shizhengyaowen/201511/t20151109_225050.htm
  2. Oxfam (2004), Working poor: Employment and poverty in Hong Kong, http://www.oxfam.org.hk/content/98/content_3565tc.pdf
  3. GaveKal Dragonomics (2015),Growth of income of migrant workers does nothelp much in boosting domestic consumption, 2015-02-16 http://www.mpfinance.com/htm/finance/20150216/columnist/ed7_ed7a1.htm
Global Solidarity from Trade Unions and Labour Organizations

03

Mar 2016

Free Detained Chinese Labour Activists Now!

 

Since 3 December, the authorities in the southern Chinese province of Guangdong have carried out a coordinated and wide-ranging crackdown on labour rights activists and labour organizations in the province. More than 25 people from at least four labour organizations have been taken away and questioned by the police. At least seven of them have been criminally detained or currently uncertain whereabouts. Those five who are being put under criminal detention on charges include: Zeng Feiyang, the director of Panyu Workers’ Centre and labour organizer Zhu Xiaomei; labour activist He Xiaobo, who runs a group in Foshan called Nanfeiyan that helps injured workers; Activist Peng Jiayong, the founder of a workers’ self-help group, and another labour activist Deng Xiaoming. The authorities have prevented lawyers from meeting any of the detained. Labour activist Meng Han is being detained at Guangzhou City No. 1 Detention Centre.  The police has continued to harass and intimidate the family members and friends of the detained activists and prevented them from giving media interviews.

 

 

On Dec 21th, 2015, trade unions and labour NGOs from around the globe demonstrated their solidarity in support the detained Chinese labour activists.  Global trade unions including the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), IndustriALL, International Union of Food, Agricultural, Hotel, Restaurant, Catering, Tobacco and Allied Workers' Association (IUF), and national unions from France, Italy, Sweden, Belarus, New Zealand, Cape Verde, the Philippines and Sri Lanka have respectively expressed their concerns to the Chinese government and demanded the release of the detained labour activists.


Unions, labour organizations, and activists have also protested in front of Chinese Embassies/Consulate General in Britain, France, Switzerland, South Korea, and Denmark.  Labour organizations from Germany, the Netherlands, Norway, Finland, Taiwan, South Korea, Japan, Indonesia and the US have also expressed their concerns and protests with various actions.

 


About 50 representatives from the Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions and other labour rights organizations from Hong Kong also joined the league in support of the global action by staging a protest march starting from the Western District Police Station to the China’s Liaison Office. The representatives present a joint petition signed up by more than 155 labour organizations and over 2,000 individual supporters across the world for urging the Chinese authorities to release the recently detained labour activists in the country.
This wave of global protests further demonstrate the illegitimacy of the arrests and strengthen our struggle for the release of the detained activists.  You can also participate in the solidarity action by signing the online campaign on LABOUR START (
http://www.labourstartcampaigns.net/show_campaign.cgi?c=2916).

Turning a blind eye to Hong Kong employers’ violation of social security obligation

03

Mar 2016

Deprivation of Regulation on Collective Contracts

 

On 28 October 2015, the HKCTU and other labour organizations launched a protest at United Centre in Admiralty, to condemn the four major business associations in Hong Kong, which had been connived its members at owing Chinese migrant workers’ pension insurance premiums and forcing the Guangdong Provincial Government to revise its Regulations on Collective Contracts (2015).

 

 

According to a research conducted by the HKCTU, more than 55% of the labour actions in Hong Kong-owned factories are caused by missing social insurance premiums, especially in pension funds. The missing social insurance premiums in total are estimated to be RMB 3.6 billion. The HKCTU had written to the business associations, demanding them to better monitor their members in practicing their corporate social responsibility and to blacklist unscrupulous enterprises. However, the business associations failed to address this issue.


On the other hand, the four major business associations and Hong Kong entrepreneurs published a statement and open letter in newspaper in 2015, demanding the Guangdong Government to stop implementing its Regulations on Collective Contracts. Their action eventually forced the Guangdong Government to remove some restrictive provisions, e.g. the penalties which employers would face if they refuse to negotiate with workers are removed. Such a revision makes the regulations a toothless tiger and workers’ rights to collective bargaining are deprived.

 


At the protest, the HKCTU used a pair of scissors to cut a drawing of handshake apart. It symbolized that the four business associations had destroyed the harmony between workers and employers. The HKCTU continues to urge the business associations to blacklist members or revoke memberships when they violate Chinese labour legislations. Chinese workers’ rights to collective bargaining should be respected and the HKCTU would welcome a meeting with the business associations, to discuss the labour exploitation conducted by Hong Kong entrepreneurs in China.

China Labour Series: The Tragedies of Occupational Disease Victims

26

Jan 2016

 

Author: Eddie Chow

 

It is frequently reported that workers suffer from occupational diseases as they have worked in vile working conditions without adequate protective measures. Occupational leukaemia, caused by exposure to toxic chemicals is the second leading killer among occupational diseases. For example, Zou Xiuhua suffers from leukaemia after working less than two years in Johnson Electric’s plant in Shenzhen City. Chen (not his real name), another worker at Qilitian Golf Articles (Shenzhen) Co. shares the same fate, as he has worked with toxic chemicals over a long time.

 

According to the ILO standards and China’s Law on Prevention and Treatment of Occupational Diseases, leukaemia, hand-arm vibration syndrome and other diseases in relation to occupational exposures to toxic chemicals or job nature are categorised as occupational diseases. Xiuhua, a worker from Johnson Electric who suffers from leukaemia, reflects that the factory was equipped with bad ventilation system and provided its workers inadequate protective measures. Workers received only earplugs and gloves, which could not protect them from toxic chemicals. Xiuhua used 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 give workers face masks but the factory refused, saying it had not enough face masks. In the end, Xiuhua contracted leukaemia.

 

When he was undergoing his second chemotherapy, he met four other leukaemia 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 in getting their occupational diseases verified. The factory refused to provide materials for their diagnosis and the relevant government departments turned them down while they demanded the report of working environment. Even at the appraisal of their occupational diseases, the employer would distort the facts so that the official reports could not show that workers had contacted toxic chemicals at work, and therefore workers cannot hold their employer accountable.

 

In the polishing department of Qilitian Golf Articles (Shenzhen) Co., workers suffer from hand-arm vibration syndrome from polishing golf cues and got leukaemia through inhaling toxic detergent over a long time, like Chen. In a workshop on occupational diseases organised by the HKCTU, workers described their working conditions and hardship in getting compensated.

 

Workers pointed out that Qilitian 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, as its way to avoid responsibility. When the government recognized the workers’ occupational diseases, the employer would use all sorts of ridiculous reasons, such as lack of manpower in the hospital, to prevent other workers from getting medical check-ups.  As his employer refused to provide the necessary information, Chen could not get his occupational disease appraised. He is determined to hold the employer accountable, not only because he cannot afford the expensive treatments, but he cannot allow the employer to walk away freely from its responsibility.

 

Until now, there have been hundreds of cases of hand-arm vibration syndrome in Guangdong Province. Apart from workers in Qilitian, some million metal-polishing workers are also affected from this disease. Some factories even have closed down to avoid compensation. These victims with hand-arm vibration syndrome and occupational leukaemia, like Xiuhua and Chen, are hopelessly trapped in the process of getting their legal compensation and medical expenses covered. Brands, to uphold their corporate social responsibility, should proactively supervise the working conditions and labour rights in their suppliers’ factories and refuse to make business with exploitative suppliers. Furthermore, 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 to pay for all necessary compensation and medical fees, as required by law. 

UNIQLO’s neglect of its supplier’s labour exploitation

26

Sep 2015

UNIQLO’s neglect of its supplier’s  labour exploitation
Difficulties and reflections on the Artigas workers’ collection actions

 

In recent years, Lever Style Inc., the Hong Kong-based parent company of Artigas Clothing & Leatherwear Factory and its Japanese buyer UNIQLO have been enjoying a rapid rise in their turnover. Their workers, who have been treated as disposable and have been left with nothing, have not benefit from this prosperity however. During the process of factory relocation and merger, senior workers at Artigas, who had worked for decades at the factory and made garments for UNIQLO and other brands, were told that they would not be entitled to pension and severance compensation. Artigas workers have been the most resilient workers in defending their rights.

All for the supplier & brand, workers are left pensionless

On 2 June 2015, they proposed holding collective consultation and were forced to stage a 40-day-strike, enduring the heat-wave while guarding the factory and living under police surveillance and ongoing threats. However, when the workers’ representatives were detained, they were finally defeated by a business-government collusion and accepted a compensation agreement far below the legal standard. Will the workers be stopped there? What can we learn from their experience? CLQ interviewed some anonymous informants to learn about their preliminary reflections.

 

Detention of workers’ representatives forced workers to sign an unfair agreement

On 15 July, police broke into the factory complex and a violent “clearance” took place to remove workers from the factory. 12 active workers were detained. In the police vehicle, they were threatened that if they kept on defending their rights, they would be treated with criminal detention and charges. Lever Style Inc. also visited some workers’ families to threaten them. Police told the detained workers’ families that release would be granted if all workers signed to accept the compensation programmes proposed by the employer. The police also hinted that the detainees’ families should lobby other workers to accept the compensation programme. Starting from 20 July, workers gradually signed the agreement, even though it was against their own will. The employer-drafted agreement stated that the workers’ resignations were voluntary and that Lever Style Inc. had offered them a “relief fund”, calculated based on their years of services. Workers would receive 500 Yuan per year of service if they had worked less than 10 years at the factory. For over 10 years of service, they would get 800 Yuan per year of service. This “relief fund” is far below the compensation required by law, i.e. one month’s wages for each year of service. The average monthly wage of Artigas workers was 3,500 Yuan, instead of the legal minimum wage of 2,080 Yuan. Most of the workers are unhappy with this compensation and some workers are considering filing a class action lawsuit.

By 13 August, all workers who were detained in the July clearance had been released. However, Wu Weifa (known as Sister Fa), who was first detained on 9 June, was still kept in custody. Her family has received a criminal detention notice, charging her with “obstructing official business”.

Artigas workers encountered brutal repression on the 9th day of their collective action

 

The ending of the Artigas workers’ collective action is outrageous and upsetting. CLQ has summed up the discussion with the informants and their reflections are found to be as follows:

 
1. In a vulnerable position, workers should be better prepared with a go-or-retreat strategy

The power imbalance between workers and the employer was intensified by the business-government collusion. Although workers had predicted that the government would side with their employer and police brutality would be deployed, they should have known that their resistance would only last for a limited time. Thus, it would have been helpful to have organizers who could help them plan their retreat plan in advance.

Artigas workers on the 17th day of their strike

 

2. Workers were not well organized in starting their collective action

Having a team of worker representatives was not enough to push such a massive collective action forward. Between the two strikes in December 2014 and June 2015, workers could have had half a year to strengthen their internal organizing and gain more support regarding other issues, such as prolonged overtime and high temperatures at the workplace. However, the number of worker representatives and active workers did not increase over this period of time. After the police detained a large number of worker representatives in mid-July, the other some 300 workers spilt and their collective action collapsed, despite the fact that they had guarded the factory for 40 days together.

Confrontation between police and Artigas workers

 

3. Workers’ resistance needs family support

The most resilient workers were senior female workers, who made up the majority of the final some 300 workers who guarded the factory. They had a very strong will. However, when the employer and police started to put pressure on their families, their faith was shaken. One organizer admitted that their action had failed to organize workers’ families or to help workers deal with pressure from their families. This was one of the factors that led to their action being aborted.

Artigas workers protesting in Guangzhou

 

4. Media and external attention as a double-edged sword

Artigas workers could not speak up in China and needed foreign media and social support to pursue their quest. Yet, they were also worried that foreign support might cause them trouble. When they launched the fund-raising programme to collect funds for petitioning, for example, enormous support was brought in. Yet, the police noticed this and hindered their action (e.g. by confiscating the ATM card for their fund-raising programme). This caused workers to keep quiet about their actions and some even considered the fund as a bomb and refused to use it. Organizers reflected that they should have prepared the workers better, to inform them about the potential risks of getting external attention and teach them about possible solutions.

Artigas women workers launched a street fund-raising action

 

In short, Artigas workers have been unfairly treated. If they had not resisted and protested, their employer would have just left without paying them a penny of compensation. In a way, they did not fight this battle alone. Support actions for the workers and protests at UNIQLO stores have taken place in Hong Kong, Taiwan, Japan, America, Britain, Turkey, South Korea and Cambodia. The strike might have been settled but workers will still use legal means to claim compensation from Lever Style Inc. The HKCTU will also seek international support through different channels to hold UNIQLO accountable.

Street theatre showing that UNIQLO products are from sweatshops

 

Hong Kong labour organizations demanded UNIQLO to urge Lever Style Inc. to compensate workers and repay their social security insurance as required by law


Japan

 

Britain

 

San Francisco, USA

 

South Korea

70% rise of industrial actions in Hong Kong invested enterprises in China

26

Sep 2015

Missing social security insurance and severance compensation as major causes

 

“Missing social security funds initiating a new wave of labour movement: Violent suppression intensified” is the theme of the “Investigative Report on Labour Rights in Hong Kong Enterprises in China 2014-2015”. On 11 August 2015, the HKCTU released this report, exposing the common labour violations of Hong Kong suppliers in China, which produce for internationally known brands, such as Marks & Spencer, Disney, UNIQLO and etc.

 

Compared with the previous year, there is a 70% growth of recorded collective labour actions, nearly 90% involved strikes. It is estimated that 150, 000 workers were affected and about 85% of the industrial actions were caused by violations of China’s labour law. Over 30% of the involved enterprises are owned by or supply for Hong Kong listed companies. The cases documented, show that during the labour conflicts, the Hong Kong suppliers all use police to “resolve problems”, namely suppressing workers. Lee Cheuk-yan, general secretary of the HKCTU described it as a “stability before rights” approach of Xi Jinping. Thus, it is clear that “defending workers’ rights is the way out for Chinese workers”, to uphold its rule of law is a priority for Chinese workers.


The HKCTU urges the international brands to comply with international conventions to respect fundamental labour rights, especially freedom of association and collective bargaining rights. Multinational corporate should not allow suppliers to replace collective bargaining rights with telephone hotlines or individual meetings with workers. The HKCTU also calls the Hong Kong Government and Securities and Futures Commission (SFC) to regulate Hong Kong enterprises regarding their labour practice in China. They should exercise disciplinary measures, such as public condemnation,  revocation or suspension of license or fining, when appropriate. The Government and SFC should take OECD’s "Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises" as a reference, to develop guidelines on labour rights and to monitor the Hong Kong entrepreneurs to respect workers’ rights.

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