One Year Anniversary of the Yue Yuen Workers’ Strike: Conditions and Voices of Workers
This article is written based on Qinyue's article namely, One Year Anniversary of the Yue Yuen Workers' Strike: What you should know" on "Voice of Hammer"
April 14, 2015 was the one-year anniversary of the mass strike by the workers at Yue Yuen,a footwear manufacturer. On April 14, 2014, all 50,000 workers from the Yue Yuen factories went on strike to demand that the management make up for the shortage in its contributions to their social insurance, which it had failed to pay in full. At the beginning, there were only 1,000 workers. A few days later, all 50,000 workers from the 6 plants owned by the company in Dongguan joined the strike. Labour groups in Hong Kong (including HKCTU), the USA, Australia and the UK demonstrated at offices and shops of Yue Yuen’s clients, which are branded sportswear companies. In the end, the management agreed to pay the arrears to its contribution to workers social insurance and housing fund. The management also promised to give workers an additional 230 yuan monthly living allowance. Has the management kept its promise? Are the workers satisfied? Let’s have a look at Qinyue’s survey published on “Voice of the Hammer” on Weixin, an online forum in mainland China.
The Cause of the Strike—the Social Insurance and Labour Contract Pitfall
Yue Yuen Industrial Holdings Ltd. is the largest footwear manufacturer in the world. Its clients include most branded sportswear companies, such as Nike, Adidas, Reebok. Yue Yuen’s net profit in 2013 was more than HK$ 3.3 billion. However, since the company established its plants in Dongguan in 1988, it has never abided by the law and has never paid the full sum of social insurance calculated on the basis of workers’ wages. Neither has it contributed to their housing fund. Moreover, since 2006, Yue Yuen has changed the name of its factories as well as the name of the persons to which the factories are registered. Despite this, the factories’ old names are still used in labour contracts. It is therefore doubtful whether these labour contracts are legal.
The One-Year Anniversary of the Strike — Payment of Social Insurance Contribution Arrears
According to some Yue Yuen workers, the company has paid back the arrears to the social insurance and housing fund separately. The arrears are paid in instalments by grouping workers according to how long they have worked for the company. Last year during the strike, some workers argued that it was the management that had violated the law but it was the workers who had suffered. They therefore demanded that the payment on the part of the workers be paid by the management as well. Some workers said that if the payment had been deducted every month from their income, they would have felt less pressure. It would be very difficult for an average working class family to find the money to pay a lump sum all of a sudden. Most workers would be forced to give up paying the arrears. Because of pressure coming from the management and the government, workers were forced to resume work and these demands were never met. Now the workers’ concern has become a reality.
According to the workers, when the company is ready to pay back an instalment of the contribution arrears, the workers are only given three days to prepare their contribution, which is to be given to the management. No delay is permitted and workers can only choose to pay promptly or give up paying a part or the full sum of their contribution to the social insurance. Some workers who have no money or do not have a stable income end up not paying the contribution to their pension.
One worker, who is over 40 years old, has worked for Yue Yuen for 15 to 16 years. He has to pay over 20,000 yuan for social insurance as well as the housing fund, which means he needs to pay a total of 50,000 yuan. Since he has no money, he has to borrow it from his friends. He has worked in the factory for a long time. After paying the arrears, the total number of years he has contributed to the pension is 15 years. Now it is possible for workers to find out the status of their social insurance contributions from the system.
Yue Yuen has a number of plants in Dongguan and the way they calculate workers’ wages are very similar. It is based on the basic wage + length of service + 100% attendance award + living allowance + OT payment + other awards. The basic wage is set at the same level as Dongguan’s minimum wage which was 1,310 yuan a month. Last year during the strike, the management proposed to provide an additional 230 yuan monthly living allowance. When the workers demanded that the increment be added to the basic wage their request was refused. How much do the workers of the giant footwear manufacturer earn? According to a worker of the Old No. 3 Plant, their basic wage is very low and workers are not allowed to work for more than 36 hours overtime every month. The workers therefore earn as little as 2,700 to 2,800 yuan a month, and this is before worker’s contribution to social insurance is deducted. In other plants, workers can do overtime work for as many as 80 hours a month. When they do, workers earn about 3,000 yuan.
The Trade Union’s Re-election?
After the strike, a re-election of the trade union was held and trade union committee members were nominated and elected in proportion to the number of workers in each department and in each plant. Most candidates were managers. One worker said that a colleague, who was a trade union committee member, had told him in private that the trade union had met and that there was no use in seeking help from trade union committee members when an employee had a problem. He told the story of a worker who had worked in another Yue Yuen plant and who wanted to pay the social insurance and housing fund arrears. He needed his personnel information from the old plant but could not find it when he went there. He asked for help from the trade union committee member in his own department (who was the head of the department) but he was told that nothing could be done. In the end, the worker gave up the social insurance that he had had for a few years. For most workers, it is a common consensus that the trade union is useless and they would not seek help from the trade union on their own initiative when they are faced with a problem...