Both the United Nations and International Trade Union Confederation are concerned: 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.