Protest in Hong Kong to Support the Right to Form Union in China

Photo Credit: inmediahk

On August 1, more than 30 representatives from the Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions and civil society protested against the arrest of 30 workers, who tried to form their independent union in Shenzhen earlier last month.  Chanting slogans such as “Release Jasic Workers Now”, and “We want genuine union”, the protestors marched to Liaison Office of the Central People's Government in Hong Kong, the protestors dispersed after handing in a petition letter.

The petition was initiated by the Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions and joined by 19 organizations.  In the petition, the cosigners would like to stress that the Pingshan General Union, as an experimental unit of the ACFTU “Reform Pilot Program”, not only had it fail to enhance its capacity to protect worker rights, they have even become an accomplice to dismiss, beat up, and arrest the workers who try to organize trade union as authorized by the law of China.  Such “Reform Pilot Program”, is an utter sham.  Meanwhile, Jasic’s Chairman of the Board, Pan Lei was also a member of the Shenzhen People’s Congress. The case of Jasic indicates that government officials, ACFTU, and businesses are working together to silence the workers.”

On 21 July 2018, employees of Shenzhen Jasic Technology published an open letter through social media. The letter accused the management, the local union, and the police for jointly suppressing the workers who hoped to form a union, violently assaulting the workers who defended their rights and the people who supported them. The open letter pointed out that even though the detained workers are now released, the dismissed workers of the incident are not yet reinstated. The workers who were assaulted are still protesting against the management and the local police station, in the hope of seeking redress.

The incident started from the illegal doings of the exchange listed company - Shenzhen Jasic Technology Co. Ltd. - including violating the rights of the workers, illegally changing the workers’ rest days, fining the workers illegally (which is referred to as “Jasic’s 18 Bans” by workers), underpaying the workers’ housing fund, and leaking employees’ information to establish a blacklist.

On 10 May 2018, workers went to the Human Resources Bureau in Pingshan district and the Pingshan federation of trade unions to seek help, where the Vice Chairperson of the federation Huang Jianxun suggested them to form a union. Therefore, they filed an application to form an union at the local trade unions’ office, and started organizing workers to join the union under the approval and direction of the street’s federation of trade union. They successfully organized a group of workers to join.

However, on 12 July 2018, four union staff including the Vice Chairperson Huang Jianxun, along with Jasic’s Vice General Manager Xia Ruyi, the Human Resources Director Li Hongpo, and the departmental manger, met with one of the workers who led the formation of the union Mi Jiuping, accusing their formation of union as illegal.

On 16 July, another workers’ representative Liu Penghua was assigned to work at other position by the management. On the same day, he was beaten by two unknown person in the factory, and the assaulters were sent out of the factory with car escort. Liu reported the incident to the police however he was arrested by the police, asking him to seek mediation. At around midnight that day, he was released upon the request of other workers.

On 18 July, Xie Zhihai, a staff of the federation of trade unions at the party service station in Julong Garden asked Mi Jiuping to write a declaration stating that the matter of union formation is not related to the district federation of trade unions. Mi Jiuping refused. In the same afternoon, the factory asked Mi Jiuping to work at another position, which he refused too. Then the management asked the security guards to violently kick out Mi Jiuping from the factory, and another worker Song Yao was also threatened by the management. The two workers are dismissed on the same day, which both of them disagreed.

On 20 July, six workers’ representative, including Mi, Song, and Liu went back to work as usual. They were kicked out from the factory violently by the factory’s security guard, and then they were assaulted and detained by the police. At noon of the same day, more than 20 workers who learned the news went to the police station to protest and demand the release of the detained workers’ representatives. They were arrested too. All of the detained workers are released on the same night.

More than 100 workers went to protest in front of the police station on 23 July, demanding for an explanation of the police assault to the workers, and compensation for the workers’ medical costs. They protested until 7pm that night. 24 July, the dismissed workers went to protest in front of the factory, demanding for reinstatement of the dismissed workers’ representatives. Police was guarding at the scene, and the management asked some other workers to the gate, calling the workers’ representatives who wanted to form an union as “sabotager” of the company’s economic revenue, asking them to “get out”, and saying that they would reserve the rights to pursue lawsuits. But the workers’ fight continued.

Jasic workers’ continuous struggle shows no fear to the suppression from the government, the business, the police force, and the Pingshan federation of trade unions. Their campaign is spread across the internet in mainland China. “Dozens of years on our knees, we won’t get down any more!” the workers said so in their speech on the street. From 27 to 30 July, police arrested many workers and supporters who defended their rights. More than 30 people were under criminal detention. As of 30 July, 15 supporters were called by the police, which no one could reach them.

Mainland workers’ freedom of association has long been limited. As stipulated by China’s “Union Law”, the All-China Federation of Trade Unions (ACFTU) is the only legal trade union body. All trade unions have to get the approval and direction of ACFTU’s superior unions before they are allowed to be formed, which means all trade unions have to be ACFTU’s affiliates. In this incident, ACFTU’s accusation against the workers’ representatives is absurd. Because Mi Jiuping already sought for the street’s federation of trade unions’ opinion beforehand, then he organized the workers and formed a union as the staff suggested. However, they disowned the statement and accused Mi’s formation of trade union as illegal. It blatantly violates the little freedom of association left for the workers, suppresses the workers’ rights to form an union by law.

Shenzhen Jasic Technology Co. Ltd.’s CEO Pan Lei is an incumbent of the Shenzhen National People’s Congress deputy and a member of the China People’s Political Consultative Conference for Longgang district; the human resources manager Guo Liqun is also a NPC deputy for Pingshan district.  One can’t help but start to wonder that the ACFTU’s change of stance may be relevant to the pressure from the local government officials.

The incident once again proved that the “party before workers” ACFTU does not defend the workers’ entitled rights. It will only collude with the government and the business, suppress the workers’ movement in an attempt to maintain stability. Forming the authentic and independent unions is the only and the most powerful weapon against exploitation of the workers. The Chinese government should put the freedom of association which workers are entitled to into practice, change the “Union Law” in order to let the workers organize their own authentic and independent unions to protect their own rights.

In Hong Kong, the protestors demanded the Chinese Government and the Shenzhen Government to release all workers and supporters and guaranteed that they will not be prosecuted.  Meanwhile, the protestors also reiterated all dismissed workers should be reinstate immediately.  At the same time, the Pingshan General Unions should allow the Jasic workers to form a trade union according to law, stop supporting yellow union, and investigate the collaborations between vice chairman ,Huang Jianxun, and chief of the department, Xie Zhihai, who allegedly sold out the workers.