International Labour Organization urge the Chinese Government to respect workers’ right to organise

International Labour Organization:

Calling China’s Trade Union Law contrary to freedom of association, urging China to ensure activists can continue their work and conclude investigations with open court judgements

In December 2015, the Guangdong Provincial Government launched a mass crackdown against labour activists, detaining over 25 volunteers and employees of labour NGOs. Some of them were released after interrogation but six of them, Meng Han, Zhu Xiaomei, Tang Huanxing (aka Tang Jian), Zeng Feiyang, Peng Jiayong and Deng Xiaoming have been charged with “gathering a crowd to disrupt social order”, for their involvement and assistance to workers at the labour actions in Lide Shoe Factory and Cuiheng Bag Factory. Another detainee, He Xiaobo was accused of “embezzlement”. In recent year, it has become a phenomenon that Chinese enterprises do not pay for workers’ social security and other labour protection measures and workers take collective actions to safeguard their rights. However, it is also equally common that entrepreneurs colluded with local governments and police repression is found in many cases. Under this background, Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions (HKCTU) wrote to International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), calling it to file a formal complaint at the ILO’s Committee of Freedom of Association (CFA) and demand the Chinese Government to stop its repression of freedom of association. On 9 November 2016, ILO’s CFA released an interim report and urged the Chinese Government to take the necessary steps to ensure that freedom of association is protected and labour activists should be allowed to continue to provide advisory services to workers without hindrance. It also demands the Chinese Government to conclude the pending investigations and provide court judgements of labour activists once they are complete.


Trade Union Law contrary to freedom of association

Despite the Chinese Government stated that “freedom of association is guaranteed through the explicit provisions of its Constitution”, CFA points out that in previous complaints against the Chinese Government, it has stated that China’s Trade Union Law is contrary to freedom of association, such as: “Trade union organizations at various levels shall be established according to the principle of democratic centralism… A trade union organization at a higher level shall exercise leadership over a trade union organization at a lower level.” (Article 9), “…The All-China Federation of Trade Unions shall be established as the unified national organization.” (Article 10), “The establishment of basic-level trade union organizations, local trade union federations, and national or local industrial trade union organizations shall be submitted to the trade union organization at the next higher level for approval…” (Article 11). In the past, CFA also urged the Chinese Government to take up its responsibility in revising these provisions. CFA further recalls that it previously stressed the importance of the development of free and independent organizations and negotiation with all those involved in social dialogue. (Paragraph 233)


Detentions of labour activists: a serious interference with civil liberties in general and with trade union rights in particular

Zeng Feiyang, Zhu Xiaomei, Meng Han, Deng Xiaoming, Peng Jiayong and Tang Jian were detained for their involvement in Lide Factory’s collective labour action between December 2014 and April 2015. They were accused of organizing three strikes, blockade of the factory entrance and threatening other workers to strike. Thus, the authority charged them with “gathering a crowd to disturb public order” due to the violations of provisions of Sections 290, 271, 272 and 210 of the Criminal Law, i.e. causing damages to the public order and the interests of other citizens. However, CFA sees that the six activists have been arrested, detained and charged for being involved in Lide Factory’s labour dispute and considers that the detention was connected with their activities in defence of the interests of workers. CFA recalls that it has always recognized the right to strike by workers and their organizations as a legitimate means of defending their interests. It further recalls that taking part in picketing and firmly but peacefully inciting other workers to keep away from their workplace cannot be considered unlawful. As the complainant’s indication that collective actions staged at the Lide Factory were peaceful, the detention constitutes a serious interference with civil liberties in general and with trade union rights in particular. CFA expresses its concern over the heavy sentences, albeit suspended, imposed on Mr Zeng (3 years), Ms Zhu (18 months) and Mr Tang (18 months) and requests the