Wave of strikes shows neglect of labor rights

By Zhang Yiwei Source:Global Times Published: 2014-4-22 0:48:01

A strike at a shoe manufacturer in Dongguan, Guangdong Province, which has spread to a branch factory in Jiangxi Province, has been prompted by a growing awareness of workers' rights in China, sending a signal that growth supported by cheap labor is no longer sustainable, experts told the Global Times Monday.

Thousands of workers at Yue Yuen, which makes sneakers for brands including Nike and Adidas, in Anfu county, Jiangxi, have been on strike since Friday morning. The striking workers are demanding their employer provide proof that it paid social security contributions on behalf of their staff, a source in the factory told the Global Times Monday. Yue Yuen belongs to Taiwan-based Pou Chen Group, the biggest supplier of shoes and sneakers in China. 

"Nearly two-thirds of the roughly 6,000-strong workforce left the factory floor and sat outside. They doubt whether the company has paid the insurance for the years they worked in the factory in accordance with Chinese regulations," said Yin Shu, a factory employee in his 20s, who did not join in the strike.

There has been no violence or conflict during the strike, and officials from nearby villages and local police arrived to persuade workers to return to work Friday.

The company then announced that workers were to stay off work from Saturday to Monday and that management would discuss how to tackle the issue.

"Many of us have been influenced by the Dongguan strike. As our factory is the same as theirs, it's possible that our factory also has malpractices in paying social security insurance for employees," Yin said, noting that the company has yet to give proof that it has paid the contributions.

Thousands of workers in the Dongguan-based Yue Yuen shoe factory have refused to work since April 5, one of the largest strikes in China in recent years.

The workers are unhappy after discovering that Yue Yuen had not paid social security or housing fund contributions based on their actual salaries, but instead had based the payments on the minimum salary.

Workers will return to work at the Anfu factory on Tuesday, but it is unclear whether they will actually start work or continue the strike in the factory, Yin said, adding that it depends on whether the company will give a satisfactory response to the workers' requests.

A factory manager, who answered the phone, declined to comment to the Global Times. Local police said that they had reported the situation at the factory to higher authorities and also declined to offer further information.

"The protesters are mainly older workers who are very concerned about whether their livelihood will be guaranteed after retirement. From this protest, I realize that the campaign is very necessary as we have the right to know whether we are covered by social security benefits. The information should be more transparent," said Yin, who has been working in the factory for nearly two years.

There have been more incidents of strikes in recent years as workers become more aware of the necessity to protect their legitimate rights, said an expert. 

"There have obviously been more strikes this year than last. According to our calculations, there have been 30 strikes involving at least 500 workers since March," Liu Kaiming, director of the Shenzhen-based civil think tank Institute of Contemporary Observation, told the Global Times.

He noted that the wave of strikes affecting Yue Yuen can be seen as a milestone in which workers, mainly from rural areas, are starting to consider their long-term benefits. This is mostly because they becoming more urbanized and settling in the city where they have worked.

"In the past, workers migrated very frequently and they didn't think whether they had the right to benefit from social insurance," Liu said.

However, 70 percent of migrant factory workers are still not covered by social security insurance in China, he said.

"The development model of having a cheap labor force always at the edge of the economy has nearly come to an end and must be ended. These strikes are a warning to employers and the government that they should not neglect social security benefits for workers any longer," Liu said Monday.

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