MENG Han, a Guangdong labour activist, was released on 3 September after 21 months’ wrongful imprisonment. He was sentenced for “inciting a crowd to disturb public order” because he was merely participated in organising workers in collective labour disputes. We, the undersigned Hong Kong labour organisations, would like to reiterate that Meng was simply defending basic labour rights and exercising the right to freedom of association which, by no means, constitute any criminal offence.
Job-seeking and Retraining needs for Middle-aged Displaced Workers in Shenzhen Executive Summary
Full report in Chinese is available for download ( click here to download) . Acknowledgement to Shenzhen Migrant Workers’ Centre and student interns for their contribution to the investigation.
Industrial upgrading in Shenzhen in recent years have resulted in closure and relocation of numerous factories in labour-intensive industries. With little savings and social protection, middle-aged workers laid off face difficulties in looking for a new job and satisfy survival needs of themselves and their families. In this investigative report, we demonstrate that the situation of a group of former toy factory workers, who were laid off due to factory relocation, exemplifies the need of these workers regarding reemployment constantly ignored by the government and trade union.
Workers affected in this wave of layoffs are usually in their 40s, and have worked in the same industry for years. Their skill development has been highly dependent on production requirement of the factories. The toy factory workers, mostly female, are responsible for supporting the living costs of both their parents and children. Furthermore, due to the substandard practices of their employment in social security, they are not yet eligible for pension entitlements and are not ready to withdraw from the labour market.
These workers have substantial work experience in the toy industry. Many of them wish to fully utilise skills developed from their past work, but they face a variety of obstacles in job searching –
Age limit – most factories only recruit workers below 40 years of age. Older workers find it hard to land a regular and permanent job.
Insufficient unemployment insurance benefits – most workers are entitled to benefits for 1 to 2 months, but it is insufficient when it takes them 4 months to be re-employed on average.
Worse working conditions – workers who manage to find a stable job report lower remunerations, lack of a labour contract and social insurance. Living needs of their own and their families’ cannot be fulfilled albeit living on a shoestring.
Job precariousness – jobs in remaining toy factories in Shenzhen become more flexible. Most factories shrink in size and employ mostly temporary workers organised by foremen on commission. Duration of work in a factory ranges from 2 days to 1 month, making work highly precarious for workers.
Current unemployment-related policies in Shenzhen do not fit the situations of these middle-aged workers. For instance, most workers who quit their job against their will or fail to provide proof of involuntary unemployment are not eligible for unemployment insurance benefits. The rate of benefit is also inadequate to support them over the job-seeking period. Local officials are ill-informed of related regulations to assist workers in going through procedures for job matching and skill retraining services. Policies assisting start-ups are highly inclined towards young and highly educated entrepreneurs in new and hi-tech industries, which are inadequate for the needs of middle-aged former factory workers.
We hereby propose the following suggestions for improving existing policies regarding reemployment –
The Unemployment Insurance Fund should be used to ease the burden of workers rather than enterprises
In face of the current economic slowdown, the Guangdong provincial government cuts unemployment insurance premium for employers, whilst the Shenzhen municipal government pay enterprises subsidies with the abundant Unemployment Insurance Fund for the sake of stabilising employment. We argue that workers are equally in need as enterprises during this difficult time, and the operation of the Unemployment Insurance Fund should be more transparent to the public. It is suggested that all workers should receive unemployment benefits for a minimum of 3 months. The amount of benefit should also be no less than the local minimum wage and subject to adjustment at least once every 2 years.
Strengthening of Reemployment services for workers with no local household registration accounts
All services regarding reemployment – including job matching and start-up assistance – should be extended to workers of all ages, regardless of their household registration status. The Bureau of Human Resources and Social Security to take the lead to coordinate resources and experience from social organisations in providing specific reemployment services for workers of different ages, skills and education levels. Subsidies should also be provided to workers during retraining as a motivation.
Forbidding age discrimination of enterprises during recruitment
Explicit discrimination of age and gender by enterprises result in obstacles for older workers in search of proper regular jobs. The central government should initiate the legislative process of the anti-discrimination law, in order to better promote social equality and progress for all.
Statement from Hong Kong Labour Groups on the Prosecution of Labour Activists in Guangdong
16th July, 2016
Guangdong labour activists Zeng Feiyang, Meng Han, Zhu Xiaomei and Tang Huanxing, who were arrested by Chinese police on 3rd December, 2015, were charged with “disturbing social order” by the People’s Procuratorate of Panyu District, Guangzhou Municipality in June and will be on trial in the near future.
In the December incident, more than 50 activists were interrogated and seven were detained or went missing. This prosecution is part of President Xi’s crackdown on labour activists and gravely threatens the survival of civil society in China. The detained were denied the right to meet with their lawyers. Relatives of the detained appointed lawyers to meet with the activists in detention, but police turned down their requests, either claiming that the activists had already hired their defense lawyers or without providing any reasons or documentary proof at all. Zeng Feiyang was not allowed to see his lawyer for six months and in the meantime was slandered in government controlled media. Worse yet, relatives of activists have been surveilled in their homes, violently harassed or verbally threatened.
We believe that the Guangdong police’s actions trampled on the judicial principles of fairness and justice, violated the basic rights of the activists, and seriously violated domestic Chinese law. Article 11 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that “Everyone charged with a penal offence has the right to be presumed innocent until proved guilty according to law in a public trial at which he has had all the guarantees necessary for his defence”; Article 14 of International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights states that arrested persons have the right to “defend himself in person or through legal assistance of his own choosing”. “Own choosing” must be an autonomous decision made by the persons involved without threats, coercion or capitulation. The Principles for the Protection of All Persons under Any Form of Detention or Imprisonment expressly stipulate that any detained person “shall be entitled to have the assistance of a legal counsel” and “communicate and consult with his legal counsel.” The Constitution of People’s Republic of China states that “the accused has the right to defence”. Article 14 of the Criminal Procedure Law of the People’s Republic of China states that “the public security organs shall safeguard the procedural rights to which participants in court proceedings are entitled according to law.” Article 33 states that “he or his close relatives may file an application with the legal aid agency for help.”
International society will not forget the arrested activists. The four labour activists are now going to trial. On account of the violations of the arrested activists’ basic rights and the harassment and surveillance of their families by the Guangdong Police, we make the following public statement:
It is legitimate for workers to defend their rights and seek social support when their rights are undermined. Even if this induces losses for a factory, the workers are not guilty of “disturbing public order”. Workers’ have rights to freedom of association and collective bargaining, which should be respected. Their actions to defend their rights should not be considered crimes.
The Ministry of Public Security should act on its responsibilities for oversight and ensure Guangdong police protect the four activists’ rights in accordance with the abovementioned international covenants and domestic laws, which are recognized by the PRC government. The arrested persons’ rights to access effective assistance, to freely choose their own legal counsel, and to have the legal counsel appointed by their relatives fully exercise the right to defend them through to the end of the trail must be protected.
The People’s Procuratorate of Guangzhou Municipality and the Supreme People’s Procuratorate should fulfill their judicial obligations of oversight by refusing to tolerate any illegal behaviour in this case. Anyone abusing their power in this case should be investigated and punished according to law.
We, concerned members of civil society, will closely monitor this case. We demand that this politically motivated case be dropped and all labour right activists must be released immediately.
Asia Monitor Resource Centre
China Labour Bulletin The editorial committeeof Red Balloon Solidarity Globalization Monitor
Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions
Labour Action China
Labour Education and Service Network
Students and Scholars Against Corporate Misbehaviour
Disney has long emphasized magic in its products. Yet, for workers in Disney’s supplier factories in China, this magic has never worked. In reality, these workers are exploited by Disney: facing risks of having their fingers crushed by the old machinery and being exposed to chemicals and dust, they work long hours but earn low wages. These people have put in a great deal of effort to produce products, thus helping to sustain and spread the fantasy woven by Disney. However, their contribution has never been acknowledged – they even lack a proper and legitimate remuneration.
Mizutani (Shenzhen) Toy Factory Co. Ltd. (hereafter: Mizutani), a Hong Kong registered enterprise which mainly produced toys for Tokyo Disneyland, abruptly announced closure and relocation of its Shenzhen plant to the Philippines in June, 2015, at the request of Disney. According to China’s Labour Contract Law and Social Insurance Law, Mizutani still owed its 196 employees a total of 9 million Yuan of social insurance contribution, economic compensation (severance compensation) and housing provident fund. However, Disney only agreed to pay workers 500 yuan for each year of service as a “living allowance”, which was less than one tenth of the actual compensation amount. With the assistance of trade unions and labour organisations, workers made repeated requests for a meeting with Disney over the past year. But Disney turned a blind eye to them.
In fact, workers in other Chinese supplier factories of Disney face the same exploitation. On 14th June, 2016, Students & Scholars Against Corporate Misbehaviour (SACOM) issued an investigative report, revealing the poor working conditions of workers in Disney’s supplier factories in China: workers worked over 10 hours a day on average, with 1 day off a week. Some even worked 144 hours of overtime in a month, exceeding the legal limit of 36 hours a month as prescribed by Chinese Labour Law.
Besides employers’ request, the extremely low basic wage and per piece rate left workers with no choice but to work long hours in order to make ends meet. Long working hours, as well as old equipment and insufficient training, made workers more prone to injuries – a dozen accidents occurred within one month in one of the investigated factory’s departments. Worse still, injured workers were not properly compensated.
In a separate report, an investigation by China Labor Watch echoed that of SACOM’s, citing issues including long working hours, low wages and exposure to chemicals.
The labour organisations staged a protest at Disney’s CSR office in Hong Kong, calling for Disney to help Mizutani workers claim their missing compensation and to also improve the labour conditions in Chinese supplier factories. Again, Disney not only refused to comment, but also rejected to accept the petition.
It has been one month since the release of the reports – Shanghai Disneyland has already opened its doors to create a “magical” experience for thousands of visitors. But for the plight of Chinese workers and demands of labour organisations, Disney has still “kept their doors tightly shut”.
“Our dream comes true”, said Robert A. Iger, Disney’s chief executive at the opening ceremony of Shanghai Disneyland. But what about the dreams of workers?
Disney blatantly violated Chinese law and its International Labour Standards Programme – which required all its suppliers to follow local laws – and have shown a complete disregard for the lives of workers. We are enraged.
As the world’s second-largest media conglomerate, Disney ‘s revenue was over 130.05 billion in 2014, which is 3.14 million times a worker’s annual income at one of its supplier factories. Indisputably, this considerable revenue comes from workers’ contributions, and there is no reason for Disney not to protect them.
We demand Disney and its suppliers to implement the following:
1) Respond to the problems depicted by the investigative reports and open talks with workers and labour organisations
2) Fulfill its promise to protect workers’ rights across the supply chain: to investigate the Mizutani case and to help their workers claim their missing compensation, including double severance calculated by wages payable, in addition to premiums of workers’ social insurance and contributions to the housing provident fund (since commencement date of employment). If Mizutani fails to do so, Disney should bear responsibility for ineffective supervision, and compensate workers directly
3) Disney should introduce comprehensive changes to the labour conditions of supplier factories:
a) increase basic wage and overall income, pay overtime payments, ensure manufacturers sign official labour contracts with workers and make contributions to social insurance;
b) replace old machinery and provide workers with protective equipment and training, pay injured workers appropriate compensation;
c) ban the use of child labour, and adopt “equal pay for equal work” for dispatched and student workers;
d) organise a trade union at each facility in which the executive committee is democratically elected by workers;
e) disclose names and addresses of all Disney’s suppliers and allow the media and public to monitor
Signed by (in no particular order):
Students & Scholars Against Corporate Misbehaviour
China Labor Watch
Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions
The extravagant, newly-opened Disneyland in Shanghai is no disguise for workers being exploited by Disney suppliers. Mizutani workers are still fighting for their rights regardless of the hostility of the Mizutani and Disney management. WE writes about that with other supporters of Mizutani workers on OpenDemocracy.
Shenzhen Dagongzhe Centre, Worker Empowerment’s partner organisation in Shenzhen, has just released a report on the impact of minimum wage on workers in Shenzhen in 2016. The report is published in Chinese, and an executive summary in English is also available.
An Investigation on Wage and Living Expenditure of Workers in Shenzhen in 2015 – Executive Summary
Shenzhen Dagongzhe Migrant Worker Centre May 2016
As the only legally binding wage rate at the moment, not only does the minimum wage guarantee income for workers in regular working hours, but also narrows down the income gap in society. Shenzhen Dagongzhe Migrant Worker Centre has long been advocating for a minimum wage rate which guarantees decent living for workers and is adjusted in a more systematic and transparent manner. In the past few years, regardless of the promises that the government makes to adjust the minimum wage rate progressively and have it linked to the local average wage, the minimum wage still fails to cope with soaring living expenses that workers bear.
A questionnaire survey was conducted between August and December 2015 to investigate working conditions and living expenses of migrant workers in Shenzhen, complemented by a focus group session for workers to elaborate on how their living expenditure is associated with wage and working hours, as well as strategies deployed by employers to cut labour cost. 89 valid questionnaires were collected. Workers participated in the survey work in the electronics, toy, metal, plastics, sporting goods, furniture, cleaning and service industries.
From the survey and discussion with workers, the significance the legal minimum wage in determining workers’ income is confirmed. The basic wage adheres to the legal minimum wage for almost 70% of the workers, which means that the annual or biennial adjustment of the minimum wage is the rare chance when their basic wage is lifted. It shows that most of their employers merely fulfill the minimal legal requirement in remunerating workers.
The minimum wage rate can hardly cover living costs in Shenzhen for most workers, partly because it does not catch up with inflation. Some of them cannot secure the minimum wage level after social insurance premiums are deducted from their basic wage. It is not new for workers to expand their income by working overtime, which severely endangers work-life balance. Nevertheless, some of them suffer from overtime work being cut as well due to recent economic slowdown. With the basic wage hardly enough for survival, they resort to resignation, which sets their employers free from paying them the economic compensation required by law. Apart from overtime payment, the employers also play an upper hand on other variable components of workers’ wage such as bonuses and subsidies. For instance, some employers start charging workers on accommodation, and making bonuses conditional upon harsh conditions. Therefore, it is important for the legal minimum wage rate to satisfy needs for a decent living, so that workers can be shielded from the risks brought by the unpredictability of variable payment.
In the midst of the investigation, there has been widespread news about nation-wide economic slowdown and rising labour costs. The Guangdong provincial government took the move to freeze the minimum wage rate in the coming 2 years. We believe that among many factors of the economic slowdown, workers already living on a shoestring should not be held responsible for that. Freezing the minimum wage would only further widen the income gap and strengthen social inequality. In order to secure workers a fixed wage which covers basic needs under the uncertainties at work, we urge the government to:
Adjust the minimum wage according to changes in the average wage. The minimum wage should reach 40%-60% of the local average wage and take the living expenditure of workers and inflation into consideration under a transparent and orderly mechanism.
Set the minimum wage level of Shenzhen in 2016 at 2971 RMB, after the living expenditure of workers and inflation are taken into consideration.
Impose stronger regulation on charges on water and electricity to prevent landlords from overcharging workers.
Enact the Wage Law to stipulate wage components and specify that social insurance premiums are not included as part of the basic wage for workers.