Joint Statement of Labour Organisations on Missing Compensation and Poor Working Conditions in Disney’s Supplier Factories

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
Worker Empowerment

Report Release: An Investigation on Wage and Living Expenditure of Workers in Shenzhen in 2015

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.

Full text of the report in Chinese:
2015年深圳工人工资与生活开支调查报告


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:

  1. 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.
  2. Set the minimum wage level of Shenzhen in 2016 at 2971 RMB, after the living expenditure of workers and inflation are taken into consideration.
  3. Impose stronger regulation on charges on water and electricity to prevent landlords from overcharging workers.
  4. 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.

 

Executive Summary: “Suppliers Escaped: Disney Abandoned Mizutani Toy Makers Viciously”

092015

Full report: “Suppliers Escaped: Disney Abandoned Mizutani Toy Makers Viciously”

This is an independent case report documenting a series of violations of labor rights in a manufacturer of Disney-branded products in mainland China, namely Mizutani (Shenzhen) Toy Factory Co. Ltd. This case demonstrates how Walt Disney has not been successful in fulfilling its corporate citizenship goals for managing a responsible supply chain. It is important for the public especially the customers to pay attention to the workers’ sufferings behind the Disney-branded products.

The primarily evidence collection and analysis of this report has been prepared by Worker Empowerment (WE) since the second collective dispute broke out in June 2015 and completed jointly with Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions (HKCTU). All the information on the labor disputes of Mizutani were compiled from first hand sources from Mizutani workers, official and public record on the company profile, laws and regulations as well as views from experts.

Major Findings

1. By underpaying social insurance contribution, severance compensation and unlawfully dismissing workers, Mizutani has violated China’s Labour Contract Law and Social Insurance Law.
2. The livelihood of 196 Mizutani workers has been severely affected by the sudden factory closure. Most of these middle-aged workers have served in Mizutani between 10 and 20 years and seeking new jobs would be a big challenge for them. Missing social insurance contribution would leave them no pension and this would create serious trouble when they retire.
3. Walt Disney Co.’s International Labour Standards Programme requires all its suppliers to follow local laws, they are specifically required not to threaten workers and respect freedom of association (including rights to organize and collective bargaining). However, it has ignored Mizutani’s grave violations of the above-mentioned labour rights. Those include:

a. Violations of Chinese labour legislations: Mizutani is moving to the Philippines and is financially sound. Yet, it deliberately violates Labour Contract Law and Social Insurance law and owes workers some 9 million Yuan.
b. Rejection of collective negotiation: since the announcement of the closure of the factory, workers had requested to negotiate with Mizutani but it refused.
c. Denial of workers’ rights to organize: out of desperate, workers launched a strike and road blockage. They were violently taken away by riot police and 23 workers were detained.
d. Refusal of paying severance compensation and threatening workers to “voluntarily resign”: when it announced to close its Shenzhen plant in June 2015, it forced workers to sign “voluntary resignation agreements”
4. Walt Disney Co. has been informed of these labour rights violations and the dispute at Mizutani through formal complaint and media exposure, yet it has only reacted to this dispute through emails, phone calls and a non-constructive meeting. Until now, no formal investigation has been seen and no solution has been provided to these violations.

Key Recommendations:

1. Disney must investigate the case and fulfil its commitment to workers’ rights across the supply chain and help the Mizutani workers reclaim their missing compensation in the wake of the company’s abrupt factory closure in June 2015.
2. Mizutani unilaterally terminated workers’ labour contracts. By law, it should pay double severance compensation and Disney should pay the missing part of the compensation, which should be calculated by wages payable.
3. Mizutani must pay the missing premiums of workers’ social insurance and housing provident fund since their dates of commencement.

Report Release: “Suppliers Escaped: Disney Abandoned Mizutani Toy Makers Viciously”

closure1

 

Mizutani (Shenzhen) Toy Factory Co. Ltd., a Hong Kong-registered enterprise producing for Tokyo Disneyland since 1997, announced its sudden closure and relocation to the Philippines in June 2015. A total of 9 million yuan of severance compensation, social insurance and housing provident fund payments covering 196 employees has been in arrears. The livelihood of Mizutani workers, among which a lot of them are middle-aged and find looking for a new job challenging, is seriously affected by the sudden change.

Worker Empowerment (WE) and the Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions (HKCTU) have been assisting Mizutani workers in their protests against Mizutani and Disney and subsequent rounds of negotiations. So far Mizutani simply agree to settle the dispute with one tenth of the compensation to which workers are entitled according to the Labour Contract Law and Social Insurance Law, and workers refuse to accept such an unlawful compensation. Disney in Japan and USA has remained silence since a symbolic meeting with WE and HKCTU in mid-July 2015, regardless of repeated demands for their intervention.

This case demonstrates how Disney has failed to fulfill its corporate responsibility. The report titled “Suppliers Escaped: Disney Abandoned Mizutani Toy Makers Viciously” jointly published by WE and HKCTU aims at disclosing how Mizutani and Disney violate Chinese labour regulations and its betrayal to frontline workers. It is important for the general public, especially customers of Disney-branded products, to pay attention to workers’ suffering behind them.

The full report is available here, with an executive summary.

Key findings include:

1. By underpaying social insurance contribution, severance compensation and unlawfully dismissing workers, Mizutani has violated China’s Labour Contract Law and Social Insurance Law.

2. The livelihood of 196 Mizutani workers has been severely affected by the sudden factory closure. Most of these middle-aged workers have served in Mizutani for 10-20 years and seeking new jobs would be a big challenge for them. Missing social insurance contribution would leave them no pension and this would create serious trouble when they retire.

3. Walt Disney Co.’s International Labour Standards Programme requires all its suppliers to follow local laws, they are specifically required not to threaten workers and respect freedom of association (including rights to organize and collective bargaining). However, it has ignored Mizutani’s grave violations of the above-mentioned labour rights, including:

a. Violations of Chinese labour legislations: Mizutani is moving to the Philippines and is financially sound. Yet, it deliberately violates Labour Contract Law and Social Insurance law and owes workers some 9 million Yuan.
b. Rejection of collective negotiation: since the announcement of the closure of the factory, workers had requested to negotiate with Mizutani but it refused.
c. Denial of workers’ rights to organize: out of desperate, workers launched a strike and road blockage. They were violently taken away by riot police and 23 workers were detained.
d. Refusal of paying severance compensation and threatening workers to “voluntarily resign”: when it announced to close its Shenzhen plant in June 2015, it forced workers to sign “voluntary resignation agreements”.

4. Walt Disney Co. has been informed of these labour rights violations and the dispute at Mizutani through formal complaint and media exposure, yet it has only reacted to this dispute through emails, phone calls and a non-constructive meeting. Until now, no formal investigation has been seen and no solution has been provided to these violations.

We strongly demand for the following actions of Mizutani and Disney:

1. Disney must investigate the case and fulfill its commitment to workers’ rights across the supply chain and help the Mizutani workers reclaim their missing compensation in the wake of the company’s abrupt factory closure in June 2015.
2. Mizutani unilaterally terminated workers’ labour contracts. By law, it should pay double severance compensation and Disney should pay the missing part of the compensation, which should be calculated by wages payable.
3. Mizutani must pay the missing premiums of workers’ social insurance and housing provident fund since their dates of commencement.

closure1

An Investigation on the Implementation of the Labour Contract Law in the Manufacturing Sector

Labour Contract Law 2014 cover

        The Labour Contract Law of China, which aims at regulating employment and protecting workers’ legally abided rights, has been in controversy since its implementation in 2008. Recent trends in industries, such as factory relocation from well-developed coastal areas due to industrial upgrade and the subsequent labour disputes, also the employment of dispatched workers becoming popular in factories, show the need to strengthen legal protection for workers. An amendment of the Labour Contract Law was introduced in July 2013 to serve this function, but the effectiveness is yet to be observed.

        As a grassroots labour organisation based in the Pearl River Delta, Worker Empowerment concerns about the welfare of workers in the manufacturing sector and supports their right-defending efforts. Therefore, following our long-time interest in the Labour Contract Law, a survey to investigate its implementation in the Pearl and Yangtze River Deltas was conducted in 2014, in order to have a better understanding of how the law works to protect workers, particularly the dispatched ones.

        The survey covers eight cities in the Pearl and Yangtze River Deltas, namely Shenzhen, Guangzhou, Dongguan, Huizhou, Shanghai, Nanjing, Suzhou and Jinhua. With the help of a number of labour organisations and university students, questionnaire survey and field study were conducted. 515 valid questionnaires were collected. Some case studies offered by the co-operating labour organisations were also adopted for analysis.

        Among workers who completed a valid questionnaire for us, 60% of them are male. 70% are below 36 years old. A significant proportion of them work in electronics factories. 80% of them are formal workers, and the rest are either dispatched or temporary workers.

        In general, 84.3% of the surveyed workers signed a labour contract with their employer. The proportion has increased in comparison with a survey of similar scale that we conducted in 2009, and is slightly lower than the figure officially announced by the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security. However, it is shown that establishing an employment relationship in written form is still not a compulsory practice between enterprises and workers. A higher percentage of surveyed workers from big cities signed a labour contract, but the figure is significantly lower in lower-tiered areas. Enterprises of domestic capital are less inclined to sign a labour contract with workers.

        The rationale of the Labour Contract Law is to establish a legal framework for stable employment relationship between workers and their employers. Labour contracts should also be signed under the prerequisite that both parties are entitled to equal rights to negotiate on contract terms. From the survey, however, many workers are not protected as such. For example, contracts are often incomplete, and the terms are not the same as what workers are required to do in the workplace in reality. Due to a low risk in violating the law, employers still tend to act in expediency. Examples include making working overtime regular, signing fixed-term contract with workers continuously, propelling resignation of workers to evade from paying compensations, and many more. The workers’ lack of knowledge and confidence in the law, as well as low capacity to fight against the employer collectively become an obstacle to tackle the problems from the deep root. They are also discouraged to strive for better working conditions and remunerations by renewing the contract.

        In terms of employers’ malpractices related to labour contracts, some improvements are apparently shown over the years, but mostly in big cities. During the relocation of industries and labour power from coastal to inland areas, it is observed that the law is worse implemented in the latter, meaning that demonstrative effect of big cities is often limited. When improvements in coastal areas are achieved only after years of monitoring and supervision, whether inland regions would be benefited is still questionable.

        The amendment of the Labour Contract Law has been implemented since July 2013 to regulate labour dispatch. Measures include keeping the use of dispatch workers within the bound of temporary, auxiliary and substitutive positions; ensuring equal pay of formal and dispatched workers; and setting a higher bar for starting a labour dispatch business. The Interim for Labour Dispatch announced in April 2014 also restricts the proportion of dispatched workers in an enterprise to 10%. From the survey, it is found that many enterprises still use an exceeding proportion of dispatched workers. Most dispatched workers do not know how their work nature is different from formal workers, and they are also generally less well paid.

        Adding insult to injury, although more legal measures are introduced to regulate labour dispatch, the demand of enterprises on a flexible workforce remains high. Even if labour dispatch no longer works, hiring temporary workers and outsourcing still enable them to play down their role as employers. This makes it harder for workers to identify the party to be held responsible in case disputes arise in an employment relationship.

        To strengthen the enforcement of the Labour Contract Law to protect the legal rights of workers, we reckon that the labour department should make an effort in the following perspectives:

  1. Inputting resources in promoting and enforcing the Labour Contract Law, in order to increase the awareness of workers and understanding of their own rights;
  2. Closer supervision in inland areas and enterprises of domestic capital, to block transfer of bad practices by relocation;
  3. Increasing risks for enterprises by more proactive prosecution and criminalisation of repeated violation of the law;
  4. Monitoring labour dispatch and other forms of flexible employment which are out of the legal framework;
  5. Opening up rooms for workers to organise and negotiate with their employers on equal grounds.

         This investigation may have its own limitations due to restraints in resources, but surveys as such from a grassroots perspective should continue. It is hoped that the survey would keep going year after year and extend to more regions, so that more workers would be better informed of the Labour Contract Law, fight for their own rights and ultimately benefit from it.

The full report in Chinese can be downloaded here: Labour Contract Law_WE_2014-7

Latest Publication – A Single Spark (in Chinese)

Chun Tae-il cover_final
A Single Spark: a Biography of Chun Tae-il

 

Subsidised by the Korea Democracy Foundation and Korea Working Women Academy, Worker Empowerment proudly presents the Chinese version of “A Single Spark”, a biography of the late Korean labour activist Chun Tae-il. For more information, please refer to our website in Chinese.

In order to celebrate the publication, a book launch will be held in late August 2013. Details are as follows –

Date: 31st August, 2013 (Saturday)
Time: 3:00-5:00pm
Venue: 1908 Bookstore (Room 202, 2/F., Universal Commercial Building, 69 Peking Road, Tsim Sha Tsui, Kowloon, Hong Kong)
Guest speakers:
Mr. Park Kye-Hyoun (former garment worker and unionist; Director of the Chun Tae-il Memorial Foundation)
Prof. Liu Jianzhou (Associate Professor at Shanghai Administration Institute; translator of the book)
Remark: Korean/Mandarin interpretation will be available.

Organised by Worker Empowerment
Enquiry: workerempowerment@gmail.com

How Should Minimum Wage Promise a Decent Living for Workers?

How Should Minimum Wage Promise a Decent Living for Workers?

  • Report Abstract

Shenzhen Dagongzhe Migrant Worker Centre

February 2013

 

As a grassroots civil organisation concerning migrant workers in Shenzhen, the Shenzhen Dagongzhe Migrant Worker Centre (hereafter Dagongzhe) have been paying attention to work and living conditions of frontline workers in the city. Reform in the income distribution system has been proposed by the state in recent years, in which improving the mechanism of primary income distribution is emphasised – “regulating the distribution order, boosting residents’ income, and regulating the high-income group”. We believe that a good minimum wage system plays an important role here. The adjustment of minimum wage is closely followed by both workers and employers, yet how it is determined is not known by the public.

 

Earlier in 2013, the minimum wage of Shenzhen was raised to 1600 yuan, 100 yuan higher than in 2012. Regardless of the media frenzy to boast Shenzhen of having the highest wage level nationwide, it does not mean that workers in the city live a better life. In fact, to many workers, the minimum wage is the highest basic wage they can get. Also, since it is still too low that it can just barely satisfy basic needs for the workers and their family, they are compelled to work overtime for higher income.

 

How is living in Shenzhen like for workers who pay their effort to build the city and produce for enterprises in exchange for a minimal level of wage? In late 2012, Dagongzhe investigated living and work conditions of workers in Shenzhen by conducting a questionnaire survey, a market survey of basic commodities, case studies of monthly expenses of different types of households, as well as a focus group session with workers. From the study we try to learn more about what criteria should be considered in the minimum wage adjustment mechanism, so that decent living for low-wage earners can be guaranteed.

 

Decent living does not necessarily mean living in luxury. A normal and nutritious diet, comfortable and stable shelter, entertainment and social security should be included, and none of the above should be forgone out of economic reasons. Our study found that factory workers nowadays do not live the worst life, at least with their basic needs in food, clothing, shelter and other basic services fulfilled. However, there are also items which they regard as “something a normal person ought to enjoy”, such as healthcare, leisure, educational and cultural activities, but are eventually given up because they cannot afford them. Even worse, such a relatively indecent living has to be maintained by overtime work. If they adhere to the standard working hours (8 hours per day, 5 days per week), earning a wage for decent living is absolutely impossible.

 

When the state repeatedly stresses on narrowing income disparity and establishing a normal wage increase mechanism, we consider the adjustment of minimum wage by no means a haggle among the government and businesses, and it should not be a focal point in the competition between cities for human resources. Rather, it should serve its real functions of guaranteeing workers’ basic needs, ensuring that they enjoy their fruit of labour, narrowing disparity between rich and poor and eliminating social conflicts, so that a harmonious society can be realised.

 

Therefore, we propose the following criteria for minimum wage adjustment –

 

  • The minimum wage level should reach 40% of the average wage in society, making sure that income of the lowest-wage earners would not fall too far behind the rest of the population. The average wage of Shenzhen in 2011 was 4595 yuan, so the minimum wage should be at least 4595 x 40% = 1838 yuan.

 

  • The minimum wage should be determined on the basis of workers’ daily needs, including basic expenditure on food, accommodation, daily commodities, transport, communication, clothes, medical services, transport back home once a year, entertainment, etc. It should also cover expenditure of a 3-person family in Shenzhen, as well as their parents at home. If two adults (presumably husband and wife) in the family work at the same time to fulfil the basic family needs and their responsibility to support their parents, we estimate the approximate monthly cost as 5783.2 yuan, and therefore 2891.6 yuan for each working adult. This amount is approximately 60% of the average wage in Shenzhen, which is a benchmark proposed by the All-China Federation of Trade Unions in 2010. Since the current level of minimum wage in Shenzhen is far lower than this, we propose lifting it to 40% of the average wage promptly, and a progress to 60% in the long run.

 

  • Commodity price fluctuation should be taken into account. An adjustment of up to 3-5% should be added to the basic expenditure, so that workers are more protected in price fluctuation of commodities.

 

Workers contribute their labour power to businesses. The latter could only produce and make a profit because of the former’s hard work. It is fair to conclude that workers actually create profits for businesses. As the most important component of the production line, workers and businesses should enjoy equal say on wage level. This report attempts to explore workers’ conception on basic needs and what affect their living standards, but indeed they should be investigated by the government systematically and comprehensively for the sake of better adjustment in minimum wage. In the long run, an open, transparent and well-established minimum wage adjustment mechanism, or even collective negotiation on wage should be the best way to guarantee a decent living for workers.

About the Development of Labour NGOs – Letter to the Provincial Government of Guangdong and the Municipal Government of Shenzhen

About the Development of Labour NGOs – Letter to the Provincial Government of Guangdong and the Municipal Government of Shenzhen
9th September, 2012

Since February, over a dozen of
labour NGOs in Shenzhen, including Shenzhen Chunfeng Labour Disputes Services Center, Shenzhen Yuan Dian Labour Service Center, Dagongzhe Migrant Workers’ Center (Shenzhen), Worker Online (also known as QingCao), Shi-Dai-Nu-Gong, Hand-in-Hand Migrant Workers’ Center, Little Grass Workers’ Home, have been suffering from inquisitions of multiple authorities, such as the Administration of Industry and Commerce, the Administration of Taxation, the Administration of Work Safety, the Fire Department, the Administration of Social Security, the Administration of Housing, the Administration of Labour Supervision, etc. Besides these inquisitions, the landlords of the labour NGOs’ offices have terminated tenancy contracts before the expiry or threatened the NGOS to move away, using all sorts of uncanny excuses and force in some instances. Regarding the harassment simply as rental disputes, the police took no action to stop it nor facilitated the NGOs for any legal procedure. Instead, the staff of some NGOs was even dispersed by the police when petitioning to the Municipal Party Committee. In all these years, these NGOs have been working very hard to provide work safety training, consultation services, cultural and art programs, as well as other legal and social services to workers. These services and the regular operation of the NGOs have been paralyzed by now. Up to now, great concern and support has been shown to what has happened to these labour NGOs.

We are a group of academics from the field of social sciences. We believe that the current situation is far from normal
. We would like to express our concern and opinions to the provincial and municipal government in the below.

1. In July, 2011, the ‘Decision of the CCPC and People’s Government of Guangdong on Strengthening Social Construction’ (the Decision) was passed in the Ninth Plenary of the 10th CPC Committee of Guangdong Province. It was followed by the account given by Comrade Zhu Mingguo which elaborates the relationship between economic construction and civil society building, the urgency of civil society development and reform, as well as the importance of nurturing social organizations. The public reacted positively, acknowledging the significant exploration in civil society administration and development in Guangdong. Under the spirit of the Decision, constructive relations and collaborations have begun between the municipal trade union federation of Guangzhou and some of the labour NGOs. This is however baffled by what happened in Shenzhen recently which is, in our opinion, a turning back on the the Decision. If the NGOs have violated the law, they deserve rectification. Yet, irregular administrative intervention was taken without a sound reason and a legal ground. Is it what we should expect from the provincial and municipal government? The practices of the local government of Shenzhen, taken in the eve of the change of the leadership of the 18th CPC Central Committee, are damaging the harmonious labour relation and image of the government.

2. The emergence of labour NGOs, (including labour rights organizations), is inevitable in history. It is the freedom to associate as promised in the constitution. Regardless of the government’s position, labour NGOs would flourish and grow since there is a huge gap between the pressing needs of the working mass predominated by the new generation of migrant workers, and the services provided by the current trade unions. And as long as the power between the employers and employees is imbalanced, labour disputes become severer day after day. As for the government, the wise choice to make is to take the opportunity, administer the labour NGOs by law and promote their development for the mutual benefits of employees, employers and the society. This has been demonstrated in the experiences of many developed countries.

3.
The emergence and development of labour NGOs is a leap in history as they shoulder enormous social responsibility which is beyond the capacity of government to take, such as resolving labour conflicts and providing needed services to workers. Based in the civil society, the public-interest oriented, non-profiting making and grass-root nature of the labour NGOs provide them with unique advantage over the government and the administrative-driven trade unions. The labour NGOs have also demonstrated their unique function in relieving social pressure and lessening social conflicts. If labour NGOs have a chance to take part in public management effectively, the needs of workers would be expressed more effectively, the communication and negotiation amongst different strata of the society would be more comprehensive. Through active engagement with the NGOs, the reforms of the trade union such as separation from the administration, democratization and consolidation of the mass base of the trade union could also be speeded up, leading to its transformation to becoming the genuine representative and defender of workers’ interests.

4
. The lack of labour organization in a society always brings disastrous aftermath. The mass incidents broken out amongst the migrant workers in Zhengchen and Guxiang in Guangdong province demonstrate that the new generation of migrant workers’ expectation on public services is getting more and more vigorous. Without labour NGOs acting between the government and the disadvantaged, it is hard for the government to find the target and channel to begin any rational negotiation in the middle of a labour dispute or a strike. Between the government and the un-organised people, more channels viewed as un-biased should be found in order to maintain social stability. Indeed greater frustration would be provoked if the government only knows to rely on the state machine to maintain stability. The rational people are able to organize and manage themselves. On the other hand, dis-organised people are vulnerable to tides and using violence as they do not have the means to protect their genuine interests. The result is damaging to the social structure.

5
. The legitimacy of labour NGOs should not be solely determined by the government and the trade union. Nor should they treat the NGOs based on the ‘contact, utilize and convert’ principle with the intention of using, promoting and offering protection to some favoured organizations, and remodeling, suppressing, banning the dis-favoured ones. The benchmark of judgment on NGOs should be genuine protection of the rights of workers, the support of workers for the organisation, the promotion of mutual benefits and harmonious labour relation. The government and the trade union may have their stance. This should better be taken under a framework of laws on labour NGO regulation adopted by the National People’s Congress after thorough discussion amongst the government, the employers, employees and the society. A legal framework as such shall be the basis of future government regulation on the NGOs.

6
. Currently, the most pressing task is to enforce the Decision by means of ministerial regulations on particular areas of social administration. This shall provide the legal basis and fundamental support to the development of social organizations in Guangdong province. We hereby make two recommendations.

(1
) The un-reasonable harassment on labour NGOs taken by the local government departments and authorities should be stopped immediately. The operation, offices and facilities of those labour NGOs which were forced to close down or move out from their locations should be resumed.

(2
) A platform which includes the participation of the government, the trade union, the employers, workers, the labour NGOs, the academics and representatives of different strata of the society should be created to discuss about the appropriate regulation on labour NGOs. Based on the discussion, the National People’s Congress of the Shenzhen municipality and the Guangdong province should proceed to stipulate laws accordingly that cover labour NGO establishment and registration, the rights and duties, the content, scope and modes of NGOs’ activities, as well as the legal responsibility etc. This should offer all the involved parties with the legal ground to follow and to rectify abuses in order to reform the social administration in Guangdong province by law and develop social organizations.

T
he reform in Guangdong and Shenzhen has earned the government reputation, credibility and legitimacy. At the crossroad between expansion of government or promotion of the society, the Decision endorsed by the top authority of Guangdong province has already given us the answer. However, the all-round administrative role has stereotyped the local government departments, implanting them with defensiveness, making them believe that administration over the society must be secured in the hands of the government. Such mentality has led them astray from the reality. Indeed, the separation of our people from the units and the land has yielded much to be taken care of in the society. The vast blankness could be filled only if the government delegates power to social organizations. The more effective the social organizations are, the less the government has to do in releasing the social pressure. The challenge ahead lies in the genuine enforcement of the spirit of Decision amongst the local government departments. They should walk away from the administration-dependent model and concede more space to the social organizations. Only by speeding up the reform of social administration and development of social organization, establishing a legal, policy and support system could we truly stimulate the strength for sustainable development of the society.

Co-signed by:

Chen Min (Xiao Shu), Current Affairs and Politics Commentator, Member of
the Editorial Board of Yan Huang Chun Qiu
Yuan Yang, Economist
Zhang Lifan, Historian
Ye Kangzheng, poet, cultural study scholar
Shen Yuan, Sociologist, Professor of Tsinghua University
Guo Yuhua, Sociologist, Professor of Tsinghua University
Lu Huilin, Sociologist, Associate Professor of Beijing University
Pun Ngai, Deputy Director of Research Centre for Social Work, Beijing University, Professor of The Hong Kong Polytechnic University, Sociologist
Duan Yi, Director of Shenzhen Laowei Law Firm, professes in labour law
Chang Kai, Professor of Renmin University of China, professes in labour law
Wang Keqin, news reporter
Wang Junxiu, independent scholar
Wang Changcheng, Professor of Zhongnan University of Economics and Law, Scholar of labour and social securities, professes in labour relations
Chan Kin-man, Director of Centre for Civil Society Studies; Associate Professor of the Chinese University of Hong Kong, Sociologist
Liu Jianfeng, Reporter
Teng Biao, Lecturer of China University of Political Science and Law, Legal Scholar
Xiao Xuehui, professes in Ethics
Feng Xiliang, Professor of Capital University of Economics and Business, professes in labour sociology
Wang Jiangsong (the author of the letter), Professor of China Institute of Industrial Relations, professes in labour theory and labour culture

(Listed according to the order of signing this letter)