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

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.

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.

. 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.

. 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.

. 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.

) 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.

) 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.

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)

Petition Letter: Please confirm the legitimate work of NGOs and support their continued development

The Provincial Government of Guangdong, the Municipal Government of Shenzhen, the Municipal Government of Dongguan.
Wang Yang, Secretary of the Guangdong Provincial Standing Committee of the Communist Party of China.
Wang Rong, Secretary of the Shenzhen Municipal Standing Committee of the Communist Party of China.
Xu Jianhua, Secretary of the Dongguan Municipal Standing Committee of the Communist Party of China.

Please confirm the legitimate work of NGOs and support their continued development

Last July, the Guangdong Provincial Party Committee approved the Decision on Strengthening Social Construction, which states that, as of 1 July this year, civil society groups in Guangdong can register directly with the Department of Civil Affairs. This lowering of the registration threshold was considered by many to be an innovative reform. However, over the last few months, many Shenzhen-based non-governmental organizations (NGOs) helping to defend workers’ rights have come under pressure and were forced to close down. These organizations have consistently provided migrant workers with legal assistance, education, training and social services. They act as a voice for and defender of the long over-looked rights and interests of migrant workers. We call on local governments to halt the suppression of these NGOs and acknowledge their legitimate work.

We understand that the Shenzhen Spring Wind Labour Dispute Service Centre, the Time Women Workers Centre, the Yuandian Workers Centre, the Dagongzhe Migrant Worker Centre, the Green Grass Workers Centre, the Little Grass Workers’ Home and the Dongguan Youwei Workers Centre have, as a result of local government pressure, been forced to relocate, suffered harassment, had their utilities cut off, undergone sudden tax inspections, and even seen workers participating in their activities being threatened. This pressure has forced these groups to close down.

In February 2012, just three months into a three year rental contract for its office in

Shenzhen’s Bao’an district, the Spring Wind Labour Dispute Service Centre was told by its landlord that the rental contract had been cancelled, the water and electricity was cut off and its signs taken down. They were strongly urged to leave.

In March 2012, the Yuandian Workers Centre was inspected by numerous local government departments and the landlord issued a notice of contract termination.

In April, the Dagongzhe Migrant Worker Centre suffered surveillance and interference by unidentified individuals, after which the landlord terminated the rental agreement and the utilities were cut off. Dagongzhe’s representative Huang Qinnan was brutally attacked in 2007, and the centre was forced to relocate in 2008 and 2010.

In May, the Green Grass Workers Centre was subject to numerous local government inspections and was informed by the landlord of the termination of the rental agreement.

In June, the Time Women Workers Centre was the victim of selective law enforcement by the Industry and Commerce department, which ordered it to close down and relocate because it had not registered.

At the same time, the Little Grass Workers’ Home suffered numerous local government inspections and was informed by the landlord that their rental agreement would be terminated ahead of schedule. Moreover, two fulltime staff had their residential leasing agreements cancelled in quick succession.

And in July, the Dongguan Youwei Workers Center was informed by the landlord that the rental agreement would be cancelled. The landlord complained of repeated police harassment. Afterwards, the group’s bank account was frozen because of an investigation by the local tax authorities.

We can see from the above incidents that the Shenzhen and Dongguan governments’ monitoring of NGOs has not relaxed; on the contrary, they have engaged in multifaceted oppression. Many people working in labour organisations have also complained of harassment by local governments, placing intangible pressures on their work. These consecutive moves by local governments against labour groups, we believe, gives the impression that the policies of the provincial government have been subverted, and that the Spring Wind of Guangdong’s reforms is now bringing in a bitter winter.

We urge the Guangdong provincial government to respond to this suppression of labour groups and implement its more relaxed policy for the registration of civil society groups. Respect civil and labour rights and allow public interest groups the space to develop.

Asia Monitor Resource Centre
China Labour Bulletin
The Chinese Working Women Network
Globalization Monitor
Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions
Hong Kong Christian Industrial Committee
Hong Kong Catholic Committee for Justice and Peace
IHLO (Hong Kong Liaison Office of the International Trade Union Movement)
Labour Action China
Labour Education and Service Network
The Labour Party (Hong Kong)
Neighbourhood Workers Service Centre
Students and Scholars against Corporate Misbehaviour
Worker Empowerment

15 August 2012

Bloomberg BNA: Labor NGOs Face Tough Times in Guangdong; Group Alleges Child Labor, Corruption in Factory Audits (16-8-2012)

Labor NGOs Face Tough Times in Guangdong; Group Alleges Child Labor, Corruption in Factory Audits

Key Development: Seven labor rights and labor education groups have been evicted due to pressure on landlords by local governments.

Potential Impact: Groups see the crackdown as part of a new effort of social management that steers all labor issues through official channels while at the same time trying to eliminate or pressure independent voices.

SHENZHEN, China – Up to seven labor nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and migrant worker advocacy groups in south China’s Guangdong province have been forced to move or close their offices in the past six months after being evicted by landlords who came under pressure from local authorities, groups affected told BNA on August 15.

Students & Scholars Against Corporate Misbehavior (SACOM), a labor rights group based in Hong Kong, released a statement on August 6 detailing what it called a “crackdown” on such groups in the cities of Shenzhen and Dongguan.

SACOM also issued an open letter from dozens of international scholars who follow China labor policies on Aug. 15 that calls on the Guangdong government to address the “apparently systematic repression” against the labor groups.

The push against the labor NGOs comes at a time when authorities in Shenzhen have begun to allow greater freedom for workers to organize under the only official labor union in China, the All-China Federation of Trade Unions (ACFTU), in order to participate in direct elections of worker representatives in their factories.

Following one such election at OMRON Electronic Components (Shenzhen) Ltd. on May 27, the head of the Shenzhen branch of the ACFTU said that 163 companies could hold direct elections for union representatives over the next year, though labor watchers have not seen any indication that this has started two-and-a-half months into the pilot project.

Geoffrey Crothall, a spokesperson for Hong Kong-based labor rights group China Labor Bulletin, told BNA by phone on August 16 that it was difficult to know how well the direct election process is going since the Shenzhen ACFTU, which is directing the pilot process in the municipality, has not announced any election results from other factories.

Chen Mao, an officer at the Shenzhen Migrant Workers Center (Dagongzhe), one of the labor NGOs recently evicted from its offices, told BNA in an interview during a visit to the group’s new office location on August 15 that most workers feel the pilot election process is a more of a highly orchestrated “show” than a real push for giving more electoral powers for workers.

Guangdong province also issued new regulations on July 1 regarding the registration of NGOs, allowing such groups to register for the first time without having to have a governmental or institutional sponsor as their backer, which has long been seen as a way to manage such groups and restrict their independence.

Debby Chan, a project officer with SACOM, told BNA in a phone discussion on August 15 that there was “a lot of speculation” as to why the crackdown is occurring, saying one possibility was that it is related to government concern about social stability due to the upcoming political transition among the top leadership in Beijing.

Another speculation is that the Shenzhen government – where most of the NGOS impacted are based, besides one other in Dongguan – is trying to “co-opt NGOs that are loyal” while getting rid of those that are not, Chan said.

The third theory is that recent reforms launched in Guangdong and Shenzhen are simply new social management policies by directing any possible social conflict through official channels rather than a real liberalization.

Crothall said he suspected that the moves against the labor NGOs had more to do with the Shenzhen and Dongguan local governments than anything being ordered from higher authorities in Guangdong, though other labor activists are uncertain.

The Dagongzhe center, which has conducted educational and labor rights discussion programs with migrant workers in Shenzhen since 2000, first started getting eviction requests from its landlord in November last year.

The group had signed a three-year lease just two months before, Chen said, but then the landlord started to call on them to leave and “implied that they needed to move and that the local government was behind” the pressure.

An official eviction notice giving the group a week to move came in April, though under their contract the group should have been given a two-month notice, group members said.

Francine Chan, an officer from Worker Empowerment, the Hong Kong-based partner of Dagongzhe, told BNA during the visit that they didn’t realize it was a series of crackdowns until they contacted other labor NGOs and found out they were all having similar eviction problems.

While these pressures on landlords initially have come from the village committees in the localities where the offices are based, Chan said, “no one really knows who it comes from” above that level.

Chen of Dagongzhe said the labor NGOs are “confused” about why this is going on and people are questioning whether the recent relaxation policy toward NGO registration is a “real opening or [just] a new social management policy.”

Chen said they approached the government in the Longgang district of Shenzhen where their offices have been based to discuss the possibility of registering their group, which currently operates under a business license, as an officially-recognized NGO and “the government denied that the policy even existed.”

The group has also reached out to the local ACFTU and was told that they should send their workers to the official labor union for education and that officers there implied that their group did not need to exist and was competing with them, Chen said.

Chen said he “didn’t see a conflict” between what the ACFTU and his group were doing and thought there could be a mutual relationship, but added that “many workers don’t know what a trade union is when they come to us” and questioned whether the ACFTU was actually doing much to educate workers about their rights.

Crothall of China Labor Bulletin said there had recently been a spike in strikes in Guangdong in July related to wage arrears, mainly in construction and manufacturing industries.

Chen echoed his thoughts, saying wage issues were among the top three concerns for workers that come through his center, mainly because the wages have not kept up with rising living costs.

While the minimum wage was raised in Shenzhen officially in February to 1500 yuan per month ($235), many smaller and medium sized companies were not following the rule, while foreign enterprises and domestic companies with over 500 employees are meeting the standards, Chen said.

Other top concerns are related to social insurance and pension that is taken out of salaries, since it is not transparent to many workers where these payments go and confusing about whether they can collect them eventually or how they can transfer what they have paid in to where they have their hukou, or household registration, which is usually back in their hometown.

The increased use of labor dispatch agencies had also “seriously affected the construction industry,” Chen said, because there are so many layers of employment agencies and outsourcing within that industry that it is “often difficult for the workers to track back to their real employer” when they have wage arrears or other wage concerns.

Samsung Accused of Child Labor, Government Denies

A New York-based labor group China Labor Watch (CLW) released a 31-page report on August 7 alleging child labor violations at HEG Electronics (Huizhou) Co., Ltd., a manufacturer of Samsung Electronics Co. phones and DVD players in the city of Huizhou in Guangdong province.

The group conducted investigations by sending investigators to work at the factory in June and July of this year, finding at least seven workers under the age of 16 in their division of the factory and leading them to estimate that there were around 50 to 100 such under-age workers at the facilities in Huizhou.

The investigation also alleges that some auditors from auditing firm Intertek, which did the social responsibility audit on the factory, had been accepted bribes in the past from companies in order to receive passing audits, calling into question the company’s ability to conduct qualified audits.

In a hearing on July 31, CLW founder Li Qiang addressed the Congressional-Executive Commission on China and raised the Intertek issue while also alleging the “audit system used by multinational corporations” in China was “not effective” and “corrupt.”

Authorities in Huizhou denied there were child labor violations at the factory in a statement on the official municipal government website on August 9, saying they had checked the ages of the seven workers alleged to have been underage and found that all were over the age of 16.

The China Labor Watch report can be found here:

By Michael Standaert

Reproduced with permission from Daily Labor Report, 159 DLR A-5 (Aug. 16, 2012). Copyright 2012 by The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc. (800-372-1033)

Labour NGO crackdown in Shenzhen (latest update: 25-9-2012)

In recent months, a number of grassroot labour NGOs in Shenzhen have been facing crackdown in different degrees. Dagongzhe Centre, Worker Empowerment’s partner organisation in Shenzhen, was forced to move by the landlord in April 2012, and was cut water and electricity supply for 2 months. After several attempts of petition by the staff and supportive workers, the centre did not manage to stay and resorted to move to a new location in July 2012.

Apart from Dagongzhe centre, 6 other labour NGOs have been facing similar situations. This does not comply with the new policy direction of social management boosted in Guangdong in recent years. The dim future of civil society development in Guangdong has aroused concern from both domestic and overseas media, and reports in English include the following –

27-07-2012     South China Morning Post: Guangdong shuts down at least seven labour NGOs
28-07-2012     Wall Street Journal: Labor NGOs in Guangdong Claim Repression
13-08-2012     In These Times: Chinese Labor Activists Get Shut Out, But Won’t Shut Up
16-08-2012     Bloomberg BNA: Labor NGOs Face Tough Times in Guangdong; Group Alleges Child Labor, Corruption in Factory Audits
02-09-2012 Global Post: Government crackdown on labor groups worsens in South China
10-09-2012     AFP: Crackdown on China Workers’ Rights Groups
24-09-2012 Wall Street Journal: Hon Hai Riot Highlights Squeeze on Chinese Manufacturers

Further discussion –
Ivan Franceschini: Another Guangdong Model: Labour NGOs and New State Corporatism
Hsiao-hung Pai: China, the View from the Ground

Petition letters –
International Scholars Call on Guangdong Government to Stop Repression Against Labour NGOs
Open Letter by a group of Hong Kong-based labour organisations: Please confirm the legitimate work of NGOs and support their continued development
Open Letter by a group of Chinese Academics: About the Development of Labour NGOs – Letter to the Provincial Government of Guangdong and the Municipal Government of Shenzhen
Statement from War on Want: Crackdown on Labour Organisations in China

For more articles in Chinese, please refer to the Chinese version of our website.

SCMP: Guangdong shuts down at least seven labour NGOs (27-7-2012)

Guangdong shuts down at least seven labour NGOs
South China Morning Post  27-7-2012

Guangdong authorities have shut down at least seven Shenzhen non-governmental groups that advocate for the rights of migrant workers.

Veteran labour-rights activists have described the five-month crackdown as unprecedented.

Ironically, authorities have pledged that the province will be the mainland’s first to ease registration requirements for NGOs from July 1.

Several activists told the South China Morning Post that they were evicted from their offices after their landlords were pressured by officials who conducted frequent checks of the facilities.

Mainland labour-rights NGOs often report of harassment from the authorities, who fear that foreign-funded and lobbying groups could organise large-scale strikes, incite protests or trigger social unrest.

Zhang Zhiru , director of the Shenzhen Spring Breeze Labour Disputes Service Centre, said he had rented the seven NGO offices that were shut down.

They include the Yuandian Worker Service Centre, the Shenzhen Migrant Worker Centre, the Green Grass Worker Service Centre, the Times Female Worker Service Centre, the Little Grass Workers’ Home and another labour NGO in Longgang district that declined to be named.

Our office was the first to be closed in February, only three months after we moved to a new location in the outskirts of Baoan district, Zhang told the Post.

The landlord demolished our signboard and suspended our water and power supply even though we had signed a three-year contract and paid enough rent. It’s ironic that authorities said publicly that they would take a more open-minded approach to NGOs, and meanwhile they were conducting a widespread crackdown on us.

Zhang said his office mainly provided legal aid to migrant workers with labour disputes.

Chen Mao, an NGO worker with the 13-year-old Shenzhen Migrant Worker Centre, said he was shocked at the magnitude of the crackdown.

Our office was forced to shut down in May, he told the Post. In the past, most harassment and retaliation [against us] came from employers who were angry because of our work in upholding migrant workers’ rights. I have never seen such a large-scale clampdown from authorities in our centre’s history.

Chen, who petitioned Shenzhen authorities last month to find out why the closure was ordered, said his landlord had frequently been harassed by local officials since November. He would not speculate on the reasons behind the crackdown, but said he did not think it was because the authorities were afraid of social unrest sparked by migrant workers before the next party congress.

Shenzhen officials told me that all NGOs in the province are still required to find a government department to act as a sponsor before they are able to register. They said they had not received any orders from the provincial government to ease registration controls, he said.

Community report: Occupational Safety and Health in China

Community report: Occupational Safety and Health in China[1]

By Becky FUNG (LESN) and Francine Chan (WE)

1. Introduction

Over the past three decades, while China emerged as the “World’s Factory”, a large proportion of its workers have been increasingly exposed to occupational hazards. By the end of 2001, the International Labour Organization (ILO) estimated that China’s workplace fatality rate was 11.1 persons per 100,000 workers, compared with a rate of 4.4 per 100,000 in the United States. Industrial accidents rose by 27 percent between 2000 and 2001[2]. According to official Chinese government statistics[3] covering the years 2006 to 2009, industrial accidents increased by more than 15 percent per year. From 1949-2010, China’s State Administration of Work Safety (SAWS) counted 749,970 cases of occupational disease all over the country. In 2009, 380,000 incidents happened in the workplace that caused death or injury. Of that total, 83,196 people lost their lives in work-related incidents, meaning that 228 workers died every day that year[4]. In China, monitoring working conditions remains a great challenge, especially in small–scale enterprises, where most of the industrial accidents are not reported at all. In Asia in general, we have found that the official statistics and reports of occupational accidents and fatalities reflect only the tip of the iceberg, but not the real situation on the ground. Due to the legitimate reasons, and illegalities, exploitation for the underreporting of occupational disease and injury in the workplace in China, the situation of occupational safety and health (OSH) in China has also been found to be more serious than the official presentation.

The present report is the result of the discussions and common concerns raised at the 2010 Asian Network for Rights of Occupational and Environment Victims (ANROEV). These concerns were mainly the unreliability of the existing data on OSH conditions across Asian countries, which in turn obstruct the understanding of OSH conditions in these countries. During 2010 and 2011 Asia Monitor Resource Centre (AMRC), Worker Empowerment (WE), and Labour Education and Service Network (LESN) joined forces to produce this report on the OSH conditions in China. We trust it will contribute to the discussion and understanding of OSH conditions in Asia, and toward building the platform of NGOs striving for the rights of victims of occupational injury or disease.

In this paper, we first outline the current institutional framework concerning OSH in China, the laws and regulations, their enforcement and their effectiveness. Secondly, we analyze the available official data on OSH conditions in China and contrast it with data gathered by community-based organizations. In this way we will be able to obtain a clearer and truer picture of the actual OSH situation in China and analyze the causes for the gaps in the two sets of existing data. This study relies on two types of data. On the one hand, quantitative research has been done by reviewing desktop descriptive statistical data gathered from the following sources: China Statistical Yearbooks from 2003 through 2010, China Labour Statistics Yearbooks, and China Labour and Social Security Yearbook, published by the Ministry of Statistics and the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security (MHRSS); and data collected by various community-based worker service centres[5], which include 409 cases from Shenzhen collected in 2009, 4,401 cases from Guangzhou collected between 2003 and 2006, and 1,560 cases from Dongguan collected between 2006 and 2009. On the other hand, this statistical data is contrasted with first-hand qualitative records of occupational accidents, injuries and fatalities produced by labour community service centres, which point out the causes of the gaps in official reports. Qualitative data gathered through workers’ group discussions, and individual and collective case studies are used to document the lives of the victims, and draw a distinct picture from the statistical reports, hence enabling a deeper understanding of workers’ situation and their lives on the ground. Despite the limitations of the data[6], which may only project some faint snapshots of current conditions and regulatory practices in China, it does identify key areas where further research and policy analysis is necessary. Our goal is to bring forward workers’ voices other than discount the official presentation. Finally, we outline NGOs’ strategies in relation to OSH and sketch our conclusions.

2. OSH Institutional Framework in China

2.1. Legislative and administrative framework

In this section we discuss the existing OSH laws and their implementation in China. Since the 1990s, the Chinese government has explicitly mandated the establishment of a socialist market economy under the rule by law, which is actually a set of rules pursuing the establishment of a “harmonious society” and increasing productivity, rather than a legal framework defending workers’ legal rights. Since the start of China’s economic transformation to a socialist market economy in 1992, labour conflicts have become more and more serious; hence, the Labour Law of the People’s Republic of China was promulgated on July 5, 1994, coming into effect on January 1, 1995. The Labour Law is the basic legal code for the adjudication of labour relations, and has provided a framework for the labour contract and collective contract systems, a tripartite coordination mechanism, labour standards, a system for handling labour disputes, and a labour supervisory system, basically shaping a new law-based approach to labour relations in consonance with the socialist market economy. Since the 1995 Labour Law, several important laws and regulations have come into force.

In China, OSH measures have been developed under a joint effort of the World Health Organization (WHO), the International Labour Organization (ILO), and the International Commission on Occupational Health (ICOH) to protect all employees including workers in small-scale enterprises or in the informal sectors. China signed the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) on October 27, 1997, but still has not ratified ILO Convention 155, Occupational Safety and Health, 1981, and ILO Convention 161, Occupational Health Service, 1985. These two conventions are the main international occupational safety and health (OSH) conventions.

The ILO Japan-Asia Pacific Regional Seminar on Occupational Safety and Health Management Systems was held in Kuala Lumpur in May, 2001, with China participating as one of its eleven member countries. Soon after, in July, 2001, China held a tripartite seminar[7] to review the national laws and implementation practices, in conjunction with the provisions of the ILO Conventions mentioned above. The Law of the People’s Republic of China on safety production (hereinafter referred to as the Work Safety Law) was promulgated by the Ninth National People’s Congress on June 29, 2002, and went into effect on November 1, 2002; the Law on the Prevention and Cure of Occupational Diseases (hereinafter referred to as Occupational Disease Control Law), was promulgated on October 27, 2001, and put into effect on May 1, 2002. Two years later, the Work related Injury Regulation (hereinafter referred to as work injury regulation) set a legal framework for work injury compensation, which was promulgated by the State Council on April 27, 2003, and put into effect on January 1, 2004.

The aforementioned OHS-related legal framework stipulates basic principles governing the prevention and control of occupational diseases, protective measures, hazards monitoring and management in workplaces, diagnosis of occupational disease, health authority inspections, and the liabilities incurred by those violating the law. Moreover, these national regulations define workers’ occupational health rights, the obligations and duties of employers to protect the health of their employees, the responsibilities of the governments at various levels, and trade unions’ representation in workers’ health protection.

Nevertheless, OSH-related laws are only broad guidelines that the State Council decrees and passes downwards through a decentralized administrative structure to the People’s Congresses at the provincial level and local departments which are responsible for implementing them. However, lower level governmental agents can also issue their own local regulations at the local bureaus of Human Resources and Social Security[8] or at local People’s Courts. Due to the number of different authorities involved in legislating and administrating OSH matters, coordination among them becomes highly problematic, and the implementation process can be distorted. This situation may be the cause of the gap between the legal mandates and the practices on the ground, where in some occasions, no regulation applies, or even different and contradictory indications co-exist.

Above and beyond this administrative maze, the local regulations at different provincial levels can be highly influenced by the investors in the area, as local legislators tend to protect employers’ interests allowing them to save on costs, at the expense of worker’s rights. Workers’ rights are additionally vulnerable as the role of the All-China Federation of Trade Unions[9] (ACFTU) is a two-fold role: It acts as both an agent of the government and nominally of the workers, while additionally supporting enterprises. According to Article 7 of the Work Safety Law, “trade unions shall, in accordance with law, make arrangement for employees to participate in the democratic management of and supervision over work safety in their units and safeguard the legitimate rights and interests of the employees in work safety.” The ACFTU is supposed to monitor the enforcement of the law, and ensure that workers’ rights are not violated. Although in recent years, the number of trade unions under the ACFTU has increased their functioning is still severely limited by a top-down union structure and a weak membership base. In practice, the ACFTU only provides passive intervention if the worker requests its assistance.

Overall, although OSH-related laws and regulations are in place, due to a decentralized administrative structure and the conflicting interests of the different governmental agencies and actors involved in the implementation process, the protection afforded under the law is weakened, and workers’ rights are repeatedly violated.

2.2. Enforcement in a complicated administrative structure

As mentioned above, one of the fundamental reasons that cause the intricate problems in the Chinese OSH system is that the implementation mandate of OSH related laws is distributed between different government bodies. At the central level, the health and work safety administration authorities are, namely, the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security (MHRSS), the Ministry of Health (MH), and the State Administration of Work Safety (SAWS). These actors and other related departments have overlapping roles and responsibilities, which cause the problems in the implementation and enforcement of OSH-related laws.

Firstly, the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security is charged with enforcement of the law, and will issue mandatory ‘Notes for Compliance’ to factories that violate the regulations. It also investigates serious cases of occupational injury and accident, monitoring the factories with high occupational risks. It is responsible for handling the issue of work injury certifications, to arrange identification of disabilities, and to provide work injury insurance to the injured workers. The ministry relies on the Department of Human Resources and Social Security at the provincial level, which supervises the municipal bureaus of Human Resources and Social Security at the municipal levels.

The Ministry of Health relies on the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the local Prevention and Treatment Centre for Occupational Diseases at various administrative levels as its key agents carrying out health inspections. The Prevention and Treatment Centre for Occupational Diseases also investigates the identification and therapy of occupation diseases.

The State Administration of Work Safety (SAWS) regulates and monitors the safety and health working environment, to prevent the workplace from developing sources of hazards or injuries, such as fire, dust, poisoning, harmful noise, radiation, etc. One of its duties is to visit factories and mines regularly and set up health and safety files on the workers. When the local Prevention and Treatment Centre for Occupational Diseases receives a case of occupational disease or complaint from a worker, the State Administration of Work Safety carries out an inspection of the factory and reports back to the local Prevention and Treatment Centre for Occupational Diseases to issue the occupational disease certificate.

The lack of co-ordination between the ministries and bureaux leads to very low efficiency in terms of implementation and monitoring, therefore prevention of accidents and injuries always seems to fail. Corruption and abuse of power by the authorities are the most common reasons for this. Although the local labour department or the local trade union under the ACFTU may try to carry out inspections, the labour department alone is not powerful enough to stop factories from violating safety standards and refusing to pay compensation to workers. Moreover, migrant workers are usually pushed back and forth between various departments when they seek the intervention from the authorities to resolve their occupational injury case, as this report from a benzene-poisoned worker highlights:

“I’m seeking compensation to pay for the treatment. The boss in the factory totally refused to discuss the issue with me. I went to the Bureau of Human Resources and Social Security to complain and ask for help. All this money should be paid by the boss first, and after he can claim the money back from the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security. The officers in the Bureau of Human Resources and Social Security said they had called the factory already. They did their job. Since I am desperate for a result on the payment of the treatment fee, I just stayed in their office and refused to leave. They then suggested that I go to the trade union to ask for help. When I arrived at the trade union office, luckily I chatted with the newly-arrived trade union chairperson, who was a woman of about 30 years old. Maybe because she’s new and young, she didn’t know too much about the power struggle in the area, she agreed to fix the compensation fee within one week. The officer behind warned her: “Hey, that Taiwan investor is a big one, not easy to fight with, are you really sure you want to help this worker? It’s hard to fix it!” (Wu Zhigang, an occupational disease victim)

As Wu’s experience shows, trade unions, and the local government, tend to protect and coordinate with the enterprises to ensure good relations and that nothing will disrupt the revenues that come from the tax and rent income of the investors. This kind of local protectionism and conflicts of interests proliferate through inefficient monitoring and enforcement of the law. Hence, violations and non-compliance with the laws are a frequent occurrence

2.3. Complicated procedures to seek compensation

The formal procedures necessary to seek compensation for occupational injuries or diseases, as they governed by the aforementioned legal and administrative structure, are cumbersome and complicated. Hence, this section also highlights the difficulties encountered by workers that seek compensation and the reasons why so many of them give up in the middle of the process.

The procedure to seek compensation is regulated by the Work Injury Insurance Law, the Law on Prevention and Control of Occupational Diseases, and the Production Safety Law. In order to seek compensation, the Work Injury Certification is used to identify and confirm that the injury was caused by a job-related issue or accident; the Identification on Work Ability is used to identify the level of disability caused by the injury. There are four major steps in the process to seek compensation. First, workers must have their injury identified as an occupational injury, for which they need to apply for the Work Injury Certification within one year after the accident happened in the workplace. Second, workers must apply for the Identification on Work Ability and wait for the results of this evaluation.

To add to this painstaking and time-consuming legal procedure, there are a number of additional barriers, which include the labour contract, or the occupational disease diagnosis. Yet even before the compensation can be sought, the injured workers have to submit his or her labour contract to the authorities to prove the existence of a ‘labour relationship’ with the employer. Ironically, this is one of the greatest difficulties faced by the injured worker. This was vividly shown in the “Executive Summary of the China Labour Contract Law Implementation Survey, 2009”, a report on the Pearl River Delta region (PRD) conducted by a workers’ centre based in Shenzhen:

“The percentage of respondents having signed a written labour contract in the Pearl River Delta is 67.30 percent and in the Yangtze River Delta (YRD) it is 83 percent. The common contract period is one to three years, and only 8 percent of respondents have permanent contracts. Overall, about 75 percent of respondents report having signed labour contracts with their employer in the YRD and PRD. Enterprises with 100 employees or less were found less likely to have signed labour contracts at all (“Executive Summary of the China Labour Contract Law Implementation Survey, 2009”, Dagongzhe Centre).

In fact, there is a relationship between the size of the enterprise and the rate of occupational accidents. The findings of one workers centre show more than 50 percent of all accidents happen in factories with fewer than 250 workers.

Table 1. Relationship between factory size and occurrence of occupational accidents.

Factory size

(# of employees)

Occurrence of accidents


Less than 50








More than 1,000


Source: Data from workers’ services centre in Guangzhou. This workers’ centre reaches 20 hospitals and collected data on 4,401 cases of occupational injuries between 2003 and 2006.

In the case of workers with occupational diseases, it is more difficult to seek compensation, since in addition to submitting the employment contract to prove an established labour relationship with the employer, occupation disease victims also need to obtain an occupational disease diagnosis before they can obtain a work injury certification. The diagnosis process may take at least nine months, and it can be prolonged to several years. Many occupational disease victims have been trapped for years just in the process of obtaining the certification, before entering into the legal proceedings to seek compensation. Due to this lengthy process, some workers even die before they can obtain the work injury certification.

After obtaining the certificate, the injured worker will receive a notice from the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security which will enable them to receive part of their compensation. The level of disability is divided into ten levels and compensation will depend on the level of the disability. The payment of compensation is divided into three major parts. The Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security provides one third of the compensation to the worker immediately after the certification is achieved. However, for the worker to achieve the other two thirds of the compensation, which is provided equally by both the MHRSS and the employers, he or she has to be dismissed or resign. It is not until this moment that workers are able to obtain the entire compensation payment.

Moreover, the calculation of the compensation is done using the average wage of the last twelve months before the accident happened. Thereafter, depending on the disability level, the average wage will be provided for a fixed period (calculated in months). Hence, workers have to provide evidence or proof of the average wage of his previous position in the twelve months before the work injury occurred. The worker’s difficulties do not end there. If the worker has not kept the pay sheets (pay slips) for the past 12 months – and many have not – he or she must get copies from the MHRSS or employer who may have understated payment in order to lessen the company’s social insurance payments. The Social Insurance Law requires that the employer and the worker share the payment of the social insurance, with specific proportions of the actual wages[10] paid by each to the Social Insurance Fund on a monthly basis. In practice, most of the employers use the minimum wage to pay their proportion to the Social Insurance Fund, which will affect the calculation of the compensation because when the worker has no proof of the real wages he/she has been receiving, the compensation is calculated with the average wages records of the MHRSS (records coming from the Social Insurance Fund) and that reflect a much lower average wage than the workers’ real wage. This makes the compensation lower than the actual amount workers should receive. To demand for a fair compensation workers have to enter into litigation following the legal procedures.

Nevertheless, the data show that seven out of ten workers are not willing to seek compensation through the legal procedure. A lack of legal knowledge, and the costly, time-consuming process are the major reasons that deter workers from seeking compensation. Usually, workers use informal methods to bargain with their employers, which lead to a much lower settlement, often 40 percent lower than the legally required compensation. Moreover, in most cases, workers that do informally bargain with the employer are immediately asked to resign or are dismissed:

As you can imagine, most of our income depends on the overtime pay. Once you get hurt, the factory only pays us a basic salary of Rmb1,200 a month as stipulated in the regulations, but it is not enough to support oneself in the urban area. What’s more, the legal procedures usually take more than half a year, and it is too difficult for me to understand those procedures, even appeal at the courts. I really can’t wait to get the compensation through the proper legal procedures. I am better off going back to my home village. Living in the city is too expensive for me.” (Li Changfu, a worker injured on the job)

3. Causes of the gap between official statistics and community reports

Below we analyse the existing OSH official statistics and contrast them with reports produced by community-based organizations, with the intention of highlighting the causes of the gaps between the two sets of data. .

Firstly, it should be emphasized that the statistics of occupational diseases and work injuries are largely under-reported by the mass number of undiagnosed cases among migrant workers. Particularly, official statistics are missing the figures on those migrant workers who return to their home village after they are dismissed by their employers due to their illness, and also those who give up in the tedious process of seeking compensation. In fact, the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Ministry of Health, and the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security admitted that these figures are only based on the number of diagnosed cases and those with work injury certifications. Moreover, the data available in the China Labour Statistics yearbooks only presents the number of workers that were beneficiaries of the social insurance scheme, hence, those that applied to the Social Insurance Law, and that were able to officially seek compensation and succeeded in getting it from the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security (See Table 2 below).

Table 2. Compensation insurance and industrial injury insurance cases,2005-2009


Work injury insurance Contributors at end of year

Changeover previous year

People Beneficiaries of work insurance

Change over previous year

People Identified as disabled

Change over previous year


























Sources: China Labour Statistical Yearbook, 2007-2009, and China Labour and Social Security Yearbook, 2007-2009.

In contrast, reports by community-based organizations depict a different panorama. During 2009, one of our China-based partners, a migrant workers centre in Shenzhen, visited and monitored the victims of 409 cases of work-related injuries. Even with the support and legal consultation services provided by the centre, only half of the workers (232 workers) were willing to apply for the Work Injury Certification. From 2007 to 2009, another migrant workers centre in Shenzhen handled 2,131 injury-related cases, of which more than half had no injury insurance provided by the employer. In relation to the distribution of injuries per industry, data from the 409 work-injured cases show that 21 percent of cases were in the hardware industry, 14 percent occurred in the furniture manufacturing industry, 10 percent in the construction industry, 6 percent in the plastics products industry, 5 percent in services industry, 3 percent in the printing industry, and 33 percent in other industries[11]. A third report based on 1,560 cases from Dongguan indicates that 89 percent of those with occupational injuries were male and 11 percent female[12].

Analyzed in terms of the causes of occupational disease, it has been found that since 2001, the year when official statistics began listing the item of occupational disease, the main cause of occupational disease has been silicosis. In 2009, more than 91.89 percent of new cases were of silicosis: 14,495 people were said to be suffering from this occupational disease, and 748 died of it. Following pneumoconiosis, occupational poisoning is the second major cause of occupational disease and death: There were 2,184 affected victims and 21 deaths. Occupational poisoning occurs mainly due to three substances: lead (56.59 percent), benzene (10.88 percent), and arsenic (8.63 percent). Benzene poisoning has caused 22 cases of leukaemia that same year[13]. However, in 2009, an NGO in Dongguan followed up more than 50 workers suffering from leukaemia due to benzene poisoning:

“In 2010, there were more than 20,000 industrial and mining enterprises with occupational hazards problems in Dongguan (a city in Guangdong Province). They employed more than 5.5 million workers, but only 6,000 enterprises reported occupational hazards to the related government offices. The State Administration of Work Safety only monitored 280 enterprises out of these 6,000.. Moreover, only 58,000 workers out of 5.5 million workers have regular occupational health checks, less than 2 percent of the total number of workers who are required to have these checks” (Dongguan Daily, 2 Aug, 2011).

“Until this year (2010), there were only two hospitals in Dongguan with the qualifications to carry out occupational health examinations. Recently, the Health Department of Guangdong Province has issued the good news that five more hospitals were given occupational health examination qualifications to start conducting occupational health examinations in the coming year (2011). In total, there are seven hospitals with occupational health examination qualifications, which can provide services to 5.5 million workers in the area.” (Dongguan Daily, 2 Aug, 2011)

Due to the ineffective and inconsistent monitoring of the health and safety regulations and conditions, many enterprises simply ignore these regulations. Moreover, access to reliable information, as has been seen, is scarce. Local media coverage of occupational accidents is patchy. Although the media often reports the occurrence of serious accidents, information regarding more sensitive and serious accidents is blocked by the government, whether in the media or on the Internet. This results from the political pressure of creating a “harmonious society” and the government’s censorship of all the “inharmonious” reality and discussion. Therefore, we can only have snapshots of this reality taken from local community cases. In turn, this report can only estimate the existing gap in the information on OSH in China. By using the existing data, we try to map out the actual OSH situation, and call for further improvement in the future.

4. Looking into cases of occupational diseases and work injuries

4.1. An individual case of a benzene poisoned worker

Worker Ng, who worked in a leather factory in Dongguang, suffers from leukaemia due to benzene poisoning in 2010. After he was diagnosed with acute leukaemia in the hospital and was identified as a potential case of occupational disease, he approached his employer to demand that he take care of the medical expenses. But the employer refused. Like many other patients with occupational diseases, Ng had to overcome many difficulties in the long and tedious process to claim his rights.

Generally, the first problem is that the employer always refuses to pay for medical and living expenses during the application period of occupational disease diagnosis. Even if the employee is identified as a victim of an occupational disease, it is very difficult for him or her to claim back the medical and living expenses from the company. During the application period of occupational disease diagnosis, Ng’s employer did not provide necessary evidence of the use of toxic chemicals in the factory, which slowed down the entire process. After the Workplace Injury Identification was finally approved, the employer did not comply with the law and did not pay for Ng’s salary and other expenses during the treatment period. Ng was even forced to sign an agreement with the employer to reduce the cost of living payments that the company should pay.

Ng and his family made an attempt to file a complaint concerning these problems with the factory in different government departments such as the Health Inspection Bureau, the Labour Bureau, and the Petition Bureau, but none of the bureaux offered practical assistance to them and even discouraged their actions, which is a common response many workers receive when fighting for their rights. It is apparent that there exist great problems in the enforcement of the Work Injury Insurance Law at many levels of government, and patients with occupational diseases are not only unfairly treated under the existing system, but are also trapped in its tedious procedures.

4.2. A collective case of GP cadmium-poisoned workers

In 2004, an outbreak of cadmium poisoning cases occurred in four subsidiary factories of Gold Peak (GP) Batteries in mainland China as well as in Hong Kong. From that year until 2010, a total of 500 workers were diagnosed with excessive cadmium levels in the blood, and 22 workers were identified to have been cadmium poisoned. Gold Peak Industrial Ltd. is an Asian transnational corporation (TNC) based in Hong Kong and Singapore. GP’s customers include EverReady, Siemens, Panasonic, Nikon, Canon, Rayovac and Toshiba.

Cadmium is a chemical used to produce batteries. Workers affected with cadmium will face health problems for years even if they do not show symptoms of illness at the time of coming into contact with this chemical. Gold Peak (GP) which had been producing batteries since the mid-1980s, provided totally ineffective masks to their staff, which resulted in workers inhaling the fine cadmium powder. The company even ordered pregnant women to process cadmium alongside non-pregnant women. As a result, the children of these women were also found to have high-levels of cadmium in their bodies due to their mothers daily contact with the substance. In 2004, greatly suspicion of the official medical tests arranged by the management of the factory, some of these Gold Peak (GP) workers went to the Guangdong Provincial Hospital for the Prevention and Treatment of Occupational Diseases to have new medical tests done. The results of these tests were alarming and showed that the levels of cadmium in their body were much higher than the tests they had been done at the request of the factory management. The 500 workers were outraged and staged a three-day strike in June, 2004, demanding the Gold Peak (GP) management recognize the accuracy of the second set of test results performed by the provincial hospital and asked for financial coverage for proper medical treatment.

According to an interview with five Gold Peak (GP) employees who had been shown to have cadmium poisoning, they had been going through a long battle with the company to fight for their rights and compensation. Gold Peak (GP) at one point forced them to resign and sign unfair compensation agreements. The affected workers were under great pressure from the company and the local authorities, which included close surveillance of their actions and even violent assaults. In response, workers at the factories went on strikes, staged protests, met with government officials, and filed a lawsuit to exert pressure on the company. With the support from labour groups in Hong Kong, a number of demonstrations were held at the offices of Gold Peak (GP) in Hong Kong Worker representatives also visited trade unions in Europe seeking assistance. After six years of struggle, in September 2010, 152 former workers from the Huizhou factory of Gold Peak (GP), all with excessive cadmium levels in their systems, won their lawsuit against Gold Peak (GP). The court found in favour of the workers’ claim for RMB 6.03 million cash compensation. Workers were also granted nutrition fees and wages based on average monthly salary of the urban residents.

The success of the collective action of the Gold Peak (GP) workers proved that solidarity among workers and support groups is essential. In the case of Gold Peak (GP), the active involvement of NGOs in the process, lobbying work, media strategies, and pressure from foreign organizations all were positive factors that facilitated the success of the workers’ movement.

4.3. An individual case of an injured worker

Chen, a 45 year old male worker in the furniture manufacturing industry, suffered his injury on March, 2011. In the previous ten years, Chen had worked in eight different factories, seven of which producing furniture. In January 2011, Chen resigned from his position. After the Chinese New Year, Kanan, a furniture making factory recruited workers for their craft production line. This specific production process required very experienced and skilful workers as some tools with sharp edges are used to make the carved patterns on the wood furniture. Chen started working at Kanan factory on February 24, 2011, and signed a labour contract with Kanan which gave him a monthly salary of Rmb2,200-2,300 a month, two holidays per month, and a work schedule from 8am to 9pm. The manager made an oral agreement with Chen that work injury insurance would be provided at a later date.

Chen was sent to the production line with no training whatsoever, and the division manager just asked him to observe and learn how the other workers used the machines and the tools. As Chen had not worked in such a skilled carvers division before, the production process was new for him. Six days after entering the factory, on March 3, 2011, when Chen was carving the patterns on a wardrobe, he severely injured the palm of his left hand. The other workers at the workplace tried to stop the bleeding and immediately sent Chen to the hospital. At the time, Kanan paid a deposit (part of the treatment fees) to the hospital and agreed to pay an injury compensation without mentioning any specific amount.

As Kanan had not yet provided Chen with work injury insurance, it was actually obliged to pay the treatment fees and other compensation payments in full. For this reason, Kanan’s management was not willing to report the injury to the Bureau of Labour and Social Security. However, when Chen’s condition stabilized, he applied for the Work Injury Certification and for the identification of the level of disability, which was set at level 10. However, throughout this process, Kanan was not cooperative.

In July 2011, Kanan started to put pressure on Chen to resign, but he refused and reported Kanan’s behaviour to the Bureau of Labour and Social Security. The bureau initiated consultations and discussion with both Kanan and Chen individually, but failed to resolve the issue. Thereafter, Chen prepared the necessary material and applied for the Bureau of Labour and Social Security’s arbitration committee. At the end of July, the same day that Chen handed in the arbitration request to the bureau, Kanan informed the bureau of its willingness to discuss the issue again. Hence, Kanan’s management and Chen met up and Kanan offered Rmb15,000 in compensation to Chen. Chen initially refused. However, due to the anxieties over the length of the process and his housing and living expenses, Chen finally settled for Rmb20,000 in compensation. This, however, was only 59 percent of what he was legally entitled to as compensation. Had he decided to refuse this offer, he would have had to wait more than two months for the results of further arbitration to be concluded, in addition to having to deal with uncertainty of the outcome of this process.

Chen reached the Rmb20,000 compensation settlement after having bargained with Kanan management. The words from Kanan’s division manger during the bargaining process are still fresh in Chen’s memory: “You want to employ a lawyer? Haha… They (Kanan) also have a legal consultant. How long do you think you can play with them? Considering the time, the amount (Rmb 20,000) for us (workers) is almost decent!”

5. NGOs’ strategy

Our aim is to stimulate workers to defend their right to a healthy and safe working condition by themselves. To pursue this aim, NGOs employ the following strategies:

1) Provide hospital visits, legal consultation services, legal and paralegal assistance, and organization of workers’ support groups in the community;

2) Assist workers in organizing solidarity actions, such as media appeals and petitions to the authorities, and support during the litigation procedure;

3) Organize public events and action and alliance building with civil society organizations, to create a pro-labour support network;

4) Advocate for legislative changes in the OSH system in China, by collecting and analyzing a large number of cases and by building an advocacy platform that represents workers, mainland China and Hong Kong labour NGOs, Chinese academics and legal experts.

NGOs’ strategies have the common goal of empowering workers to self-organize and pursue their rights autonomously. However, some basic challenges remain for NGOs, including improving their access to workers and empowering them, especially migrant workers. For workers who usually have long shifts of nearly 10 to 12 hours a day), it is difficult for them to access OSH information, get legal training or set up contacts with the support network to start the empowerment process, let alone engage in self-organization.

6. Conclusion

The real statistics on occupational hazards and accidents in China remains unkown, which is believed to be highly underestimated and underreported due to poor enforcement and monitoring of OSH-related laws, cumbersome, lengthy process of verification of injury and degree of disability and a lack of an accountable and transparent mechanism to compile statistics. Worse still, the hidden problems are diffusing into other Asian countries.

In the process of global industrial relocation, enterprises seek locations with the lowest costs, and with lax and imperfect laws and regulations to reduce productivity risks (as avoiding raising production costs). In 2011, the relocation of enterprises settled in China has followed two paths: towards China’s hinterland or towards Southeast Asian countries. With the new industrial set-ups following the old models, these have incited the emergence of labour and OSH problems in other countries. In fact, the OSH problems in these new locations appear as serious as in previous location in China, and workers also face low wages and casualization of labour. The need for a hike in the minimum wage rate and the casualization of labour are common issues that workers across countries are protesting against.

We can assume workers in other countries in Asia are facing similar situations and problems as in China. Hence, we emphasize the importance of further investigating OSH conditions in China and elsewhere, not only because the data itself is unreliable, but also because it will provide the basis to further advocate for improvements of OSH conditions across the region. To better understand the situations on the ground, and to allow workers to better make claims and demand their rights and improvement of the labour conditions, further research is necessary.

The most critical challenge for most workers and labour NGOs in Asian countries is to find ways to contribute to the improvement of OSH conditions in a more open and sustainable way under authoritarian regimes. Indeed, if we have the strong conviction that OSH is a basic human right, NGOs should mobilise resources to demand these rights and seek spaces for workers to enjoy their rights in an autonomous and collective way. Of course, the sustainable strategy is to empower workers to demand their rights themselves. Workers must realise that they are the key actors, they must make themselves visible, and they should speak out, learn, and be actively involved in monitoring their working conditions with their employers.

[1] The report was originally presented at the annual meeting of Asian Network for the Rights of Occupational and Environmental Victims (ANROEV) in India in November 2011.

[2] Garrett D. Brown and Dara O’Rourke. “The Race to China and Implications for Global Labour Standards”. International Journal o Occupational and Environmental Health, 2003; 9, p.229-300.

[3] China Labor Statistical Yearbook, 2007-2010, and China Labor and Social Security Yearbook, 2007-2010.

[4] China Labor Statistical Yearbook, 2010.

[5] Data was collected by five community-based workers service centres through hospital visit and case studies. The five service centres are grassroots labour NGOs based in the Pearl River Delta, three in Shenzhen and two in Dongguan, which conduct regular visits to hospitals and provide free legal consultation and legal aid services to injured workers. For reasons of confidentiality and security of our sources, the names of the community-based organizations will remain anonymous throughout the report.

[6] The data are mainly from the local reports produced by different workers services centres. Figures come out from a limited sample of workers, highly related to the industries present in the areas near the centres’ locations. However, this data can provide the most reliable up-to-date information on the reality of OHS conditions.

[7] “The ILO consistently works with its tripartite constituents as represented by the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security (MOHRSS), the All-China Federation of Trade Unions (ACFTU), and China Enterprise Confederation (CEC). The aim of such cooperation is to overcome the challenges in Chinese employment by working together.” The ILO in China:

[8] Even the name of regional offices of the government’s Department of Labour and Social Security is not unified in province and city level. After 2008, some offices of the Department of Labour and Social Security changed the name to Department of Human Resources and Social Security.

[9] The All-China Federation of Trade Unions is the sole national trade union federation of the People’s Republic of China. It is the largest trade union in the world with 134 million members in 1,713,000 primary trade union organizations. The ACFTU is divided into 31 regional federations and 10 national industrial unions. ACFTU has a monopoly on trade unionizing in China and the creation of competing unions is illegal. As a tool of the government, ACFTU has been seen as not acting in the best interest of its members (workers), bowing to the government pressure on industry growth and not defending workers’ rights. The ICFTU, noting that the ACFTU is not an independent trade union organization, concludes that it cannot be regarded as an authentic voice of Chinese workers.

[10] Commonly, the actual wages paid to a worker comprise three parts: around 40 percent is the basic salary (paid at the minimum wage), around 55 percent is overtime pay and less than 5 percent is subsidies.

[11] These figures are based on 409 cases collected in the hospital visiting program in Shenzhen during the year 2009.

[12] These figures are based on 1,560 cases collected by two workers service centers in 2006-2009.

[13] 2009 Report on Occupational Disease Prevention and Control, Ministry of Health, PRC

Two Years to Fight for a Fair Trial and Verdict for Huang Qingnan and Shenzhen Worker Centre, China

Worker Empowerment  E-newsletter issue 12/2009
30thDecember, 2009
Two Years to Fight for a Fair Trial and Verdict for Huang Qingnan and Shenzhen Worker Centre, China


It has been two years since China labor activist Huang Qingnan almost lost his leg to an attack on 20 November 2007. The founder person of the Dagongzhe Migrant Worker Centre (hereafter DGZ) in Shenzhen China was attacked in broad daylight for his work educating migrant workers about their labor rights.

It has been two years to fight for a fair trial and verdict for Huang Qingnan and DGZ with the persistent support from the general public and various international groups in condemning the violent attacks, endorsing the statement, writing letters, donating to and visiting DGZ and Huang Qingnan. All of the solidarity has made it possible for DGZ and Huang Qingnan to go through the most difficult period. However, in the past 2 years, the situation on DGZ and Huang Qingnan has still been tough.

The result of the second verdict on Huang Qingnan was still disappointing. In July 2009, the Shenzhen Intermediate People’s Court gave a lenient punishment on the murderer and the master mind while refused to recognize Huang Qingnan’s condition as the level 6 disability as the first verdict. The murderer and the master mind were reduced their penalties from 5-years imprisonment to 4-years imprisonment, 5-year imprisonment to 4-years imprisonment respectively. One of the criminals had been released in August. Based on the excuse that the disability identifications on Huang were invalid, the court only ruled the compensation claims on the medical and several minor expenditures on Huang Qingnan with a lump sum of RMB96,869.89. The disability compensation, cost on disability-aid tools, living subsidesand psychological damages were dismissed. Six months have gone by, however, Huang is yet to receive the compensation.

In August 2009, DGZ and Huang Qingnan were constantly under various kinds of harassment by unknown people. Huang Qingnan’s vehicle was deliberately punctured while he was out for work. On the same day, two notices displayedat DGZ were torn off by unknown persons. DGZ urgently decided Huang Qingnan to withdraw from the frontline duties in Shenzhen to protect his personal safety, while DGZ continues to struggle for daily labour services. DGZ reported these intimidations to the local Police and the Authorities but received no reply at all. Since then DGZ has been receiving sexual harassing phone calls by unknown males.

In September 2009, Huang’s appeal to the Shenzhen Intermediate People’s Court for retrial was rejected. It then puts the case in deadlock. According to the second verdict, the master mind will be released in the coming January. Early this August, DGZ was told the master mind has spent 1 million and got released.

Worker Empowerment believes the rejection of Huang’s level 6 disability certification is violating the legal regulations and provisions. The continuous intimidations towards DGZ demonstrates the ineffectiveness of theChinese laws and its implementation in protecting the most in need. In contrast, they are helplessly exposing to violence.

Worker Empowerment will continue the fight for social and legal justice for Huang Qingnan and the working people in China. In this regards, Worker Empowerment would like to urge friends, brothers and sisters of international community for continuous support.

Please contact us by for details.