Violent assaults, lawful dismantling

A harsh winter for labour organizations

Rampant violent attacks on labour organizations

In recent years, there have been repeated attacks of various forms on labour organizations, their organizers and workers. Since 2012, many organizations have found it difficult to operate, living under threats of violent assault. The office of Little Grass Workers’ Home in Shenzhen was violently vandalized by thugs and the organization was forced to relocate again and again. Jin Shichang of the Migrant Workers’ Centre in Zhongshan was beaten up by security guards paid by employers, and was forced to leave Guangdong. In Zhejiang Province, the office of Little Fish Labour Rights Protection Centre in Yongkang was smashed and Huang Caigen, head of the organization, was attacked and injured by thugs late at night. Zhang Zhiru of Shenzhen Chunfeng Labor Disputes Services Centre was repeatedly forced to relocate, his car was vandalized and he was threatened on the phone again and again. The violent assault on Zeng Feiyang on 26 December 2014, the head of Pan Yu Migrant Worker Documentation Center PMWDC, was the most recent case of violence: Zeng was brutally attacked by 4 unidentified thugs.
On one hand, local law enforcement authorities often turn a blind eye to these cases and leave thugs to walk free. This negligence promotes a continuous expansion of violence against labour groups. On the other hand, authorities intimidate the labour groups by frequently searching their offices, and detaining and questioning their staff members. For example, on 14 January, the head of one labour organization, Foshan Nanfeiyian Social Service Centre, was taken away for nearly 8 hours, for questioning related to “disrupting the order of business”.

Global support for labour organizations in China

A series of violent assaults against labour organizations generated widespread concern, both locally and globally. From late December 2014 to Jan 9, 2015, an urgent appeal petition was launched in China, with more than 25 Chinese organizations and 3,000 workers co-signing it. On 31 December 2014, the HKCTU and Globalization Monitor launched a global campaign, and by 3pm on 15 January 2015, 419 organizations (including the International Trade Unions Confederation, and International Union of Food Workers) and 3,214 individuals registered their support for Chinese labour organizations. On 16 January, the HKCTU and numerous Hong Kong labour groups staged a protest at the Liaison Office of the Central People's Government in Hong Kong, calling on the Chinese government to immediately stop the violent oppression against labour organizations.

On 16 January 2015, the HKCTU and various labour groups handed in their joint petition to the Liaison Office of the Central People's Government in Hong Kong

Chinese labour organizations and workers signed a petition to condemn violence.

A ban on NGOs receiving foreign funding

Apart from violent assaults, harsh legislation is going to further destablize the labour NGOs. According to a report from the Hong Kong newspaper Mingpao Daily, the Guangzhou municipal government has considered and adopted “Administrative methods of social organizations in Guangzhou City” in its executive meeting on 16 June 2014. The methods clearly state that a social organization with “major funding from foreign organizations” should be considered as “a branch, a representative organization of a foreign orgnization, or an organization which is effectively controlled and administrated by a foreign organization in this city” and therefore, its registration would be revoked. When “a revoked social organization continues to operate as a social organization”, it would be treated as “an illegal social organization”. In the view of HKCTU, it is highly possible that such control could be adopted nationwide. In early January 2015, the Xinhua News reported that, to ensure and standardize the legal operation of foreign NGOs in China, the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress would examine a draft bill regulating foreign NGOs1. The bill would specify the application procedure of foreign NGOs’ registration and operation, as well as the consequences of their unlawful acts. “I believe many social organizations would be banned. Our Migrant Workers’ Centre would be taken down.” Zeng Feiyang, director of one of the first grassroots organizations to support workers’ rights told Mingpao. “It is the worst of the draconian laws to ban unauthorized preparatory activities of a social organization”, hes explained “Where is our freedom of association (guaranteed by Constitution) then? This Regulation itself is violating our Constitution.”
In fact, it is not only foreign NGOs that are being targeted. On 16 October 2014, the Civil Affairs Bureau of Guangzhou City issued a “Guangzhou City’s Working Regulation on Banning Illegal Social Organizations (Draft)” calling for a ban on social organizations with “unauthorized preparatory activities of a social organization”. This Regulation created heated debates in the media. NGOCN, a charity website in Guangzhou conducted a survey and, among the 221 valid responses, found 64.9% of NGO staff members believe their organization would be affected by this Regulation, if it is passed.
From local to national legislation, from relaxing the registration procedure to again tightening it, from cutting off funding to forced disappearance of NGOs’ directors, NGOs in China have gone through an extremely tough year in 2014. Some live continuously under the threat of being immediately banned by authorities. For workers, this cutting off of channels to seek help will only worsen the situation. From now on, they are being forced to walk a tougher path to safeguard their rights and they will have to rely on their own empowerment.

1 New Regulation in Guangzhou to worsen the survival of NGOs, Mingpao Daily, 3 January 2015