News / Asia

Report: Chinese Workers Increasingly Use Collective Actions

A worker loads steel bars for export at a port in Lianyungang, Jiangsu province, China, June 4, 2013.
A worker loads steel bars for export at a port in Lianyungang, Jiangsu province, China, June 4, 2013.
VOA News
China's economic slowdown, and the rising costs of labor in the country's main industrial hubs, are contributing to a transformation in the way workers negotiate with employers, says a Hong Kong-based workers' rights organization. Equipped with a better understanding of their rights, workers in China are increasingly using collective actions to negotiate pay and benefits.

"In the past two years, collective actions by organizations established by workers themselves have become the mainstream type of labor movement in China," says the Fifth Report on Chinese Workers' Movement released this week by the China Labor Bulletin, an organization that monitors workers conditions in China.

The report looked at 270 strikes that occurred between 2011 and 2012 in various regions of China. It found that workers took to the streets during disputes over issues such as non-payment of overtime, and compensation after the companies' relocation or management changes. The majority of the disputes happened in factories in the coastal provinces of China, where most manufacturing companies are traditionally located.

Countries affected by the global financial crisis and the European debt crisis, such as the United States and Eurozone members, have decreased their orders from China in recent years.

As a result, China's export sector - key to the country's economic growth in the past decade - has suffered, and manufacturing companies have taken measures to cut their losses, including eliminating staff, relocating production to cheaper locations or selling.

"These actions affected the relationship between employers and workers," the report said. "Some workers did not agree to relocation, others faced unemployment, others again did agree to remain in the company but worried that the new management would not recognize their years of work and seniority."

The report cited examples of how such grievances have turned into collective actions. In January of last year, 3,000 workers from Sanyo Electric in the Guangdong city of Shenzhen went on strike. Sanyo had not notified workers of an agreement to merge with Panasonic, and refused to pay merger compensation to the workers.

"Chinese workers have already found their status, they understand their own rights, and are taking action to see those rights realized," the report said.

Geoffrey Crothall, the communications director at the China Labor Bulletin, said that while these were very encouraging signs, the labor movement in China still lacked a long-term and well-established mechanism to resolve labor disputes through peaceful negotiation.

"At the moment, if workers have grievances they still pretty much have no option but to simply go out on strike and force management to at least listen to their demands," said Crothall.

Crothall said that the Communist Party-sanctioned nationwide labor union has largely been a bystander in labor disputes.

"They have made some attempts to be more actively, and more positively involved over the last couple of years in the local level, in Shenzhen and Guangzhou," he said. "But generally, it is still the case that the workers are on one side, managers are on another, and the trade union is on the sideline looking in."

The All China Federation of Trade Unions is the only organization permitted to represent workers in China. The group is responsible for overseeing workers' rights, but often has been accused of failing to act on its members' behalf.

The union has a wide presence in state-owned companies, and has established branches in private and foreign companies operating in China as well.

Liu Erduo, associate professor at the School of Labor and Human Resources at Beijing's Renmin University said that, while trade unions within state-owned companies were not likely to change the way they managed workers, progress was likely to happen within private firms.

"The nature of trade unions in non-state companies might vary in the future," said Liu. “Unions might be able to be more independent in their management, and as a result there might be a trend towards a variety of forms in social movement by workers, collective bargaining, as well as management of disputes between workers and employers."

In 2008, China passed a far-reaching labor law that granted increasing contractual rights to workers, and enhanced the role of unions in negotiating wages and working conditions. Many local NGOs have been able to use the law as a tool to educate workers about their rights, as well as push companies to grant employees better deals.

Crothall said that NGOs and worker activists were now doing the job that the official trade unions should be doing.

"Ultimately the ideal solution is for worker activists to actually get involved in the official trade union, either through election at the factory level, and really act as proper union and workers representatives in the workplace," said Crothall.

The continuing slowdown in China's economy is likely to spur more discontent as more companies are forced to relocate, or are not able to fulfill their contractual promises.

In the first four months of 2013, the China Labor Bulletin recorded 201 cases of labor disputes, almost double the number during the same period last year.

You May Like

Video For West Ukraine City, Conflict Far Away Yet Near

Physically and culturally close to Western Europe, Lviv feels solidarity with compatriots in country’s east but says they need to decide own future More

West African Women Disproportionately Affected by Ebola

Women's roles in families and the community put them at greater risk for contracting the disease, officials say More

Video NASA's MAVEN Spacecraft Arrives at Mars

Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution craft will measure rates at which gases escape Martian atmosphere into space More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
NASA’s MAVEN Probe Enters Mars Orbiti
X
September 22, 2014 9:20 PM
NASA’s newest Mars probe, called MAVEN, has successfully entered its designated orbit around the Red Planet. Scientists will use its sophisticated instruments to try to learn what happened to the atmosphere Mars had a few billion years ago. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video NASA’s MAVEN Probe Enters Mars Orbit

NASA’s newest Mars probe, called MAVEN, has successfully entered its designated orbit around the Red Planet. Scientists will use its sophisticated instruments to try to learn what happened to the atmosphere Mars had a few billion years ago. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video For West Ukraine City, Conflict Far Away Yet Near

The western Ukrainian city of Lviv prides itself on being both physically and culturally close to Western Europe. The Russian-backed separatists in the eastern part of the country are 1,200 kilometers away, and seemingly even farther away in their world view. Still, as VOA’s Al Pessin reports, the war is having an impact in Lviv.
Video

Video Saving Global Fish Stocks Starts in the Kitchen

With an estimated 90 percent of the world’s larger fish populations having already vanished, a growing number of people in the seafood industry are embracing the concept of sustainable fishing and farming practices. One American marine biologist turned restaurateur in Thailand is spreading the word among fellow chefs and customers. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Bangkok.
Video

Video Chinese Admiral Key in China’s Promotion of Sea Links

China’s President last week wrapped up landmark visits to India, Sri Lanka and Maldives, part of a broader campaign to promote a new “Maritime Silk Road” in Asia. The Chinese government’s promotion efforts rely heavily on the country’s best-known sailor, a 15th century eunuch named Zheng He. VOA's Bill Ide reports from the sailor’s hometown in Yunnan on the effort to promote China’s future by recalling its past.
Video

Video Experts Fear Ebola Outbreak ‘Beyond Our Capability to Contain’

Each day brings with it new warnings about the deadly Ebola outbreak already blamed for killing more than 2,600 people across West Africa. And while countries and international organizations like the United Nations are starting to come through on promises of help for those most affected, the unprecedented speed with which the virus has spread is raising questions about the international response. VOA's Jeff Seldin has more from Washington.
Video

Video Natural Gas Export Plan Divides Maryland Town

A U.S. power company that has been importing natural gas now wants to export it. If approved, its plant in Lusby, Maryland, would likely be the first terminal on the United States East Coast to export liquefied natural gas from American pipelines. While some residents welcome the move because it will create jobs, others oppose it, saying the expansion could be a safety and environmental hazard. VOA’s Deborah Block examines the controversy.
Video

Video Difficult Tactical Battle Ahead Against IS Militants in Syria

The U.S. president has ordered the military to intensify its fight against the Islamic State, including in Syria. But how does the military conduct air strikes in a country that is not a U.S. ally? VOA correspondent Carla Babb reports from the Pentagon.
Video

Video Iran, World Powers Seek Progress in Nuclear Talks

Iran and the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany, known as the P5 + 1, have started a new round of talks on Iran's nuclear program. VOA State Department correspondent Pam Dockins reports that as the negotiations take place in New York, a U.S. envoy is questioning Iran's commitment to peaceful nuclear activity.
Video

Video Migrants Caught in No-Man's Land Called Calais

The deaths of hundreds of migrants in the Mediterranean this week has only recast the spotlight on the perils of reaching Europe. And for those forunate enough to reach a place like Calais, France, only find that their problems aren't over. Lisa Bryant has the story.
Video

Video Westgate Siege Anniversary Brings Back Painful Memories

One year after it happened, the survivors of the terror attack on Nairobi's Westgate Shopping Mall still cannot shake the images of that tragic incident. For VOA, Mohammed Yusuf tells the story of victims still waiting for the answer to the question 'how could this happen?'
Video

Video Whaling Summit Votes to Uphold Ban on Japan Whale Hunt

The International Whaling Commission, meeting in Slovenia, has voted to uphold a court ruling banning Japan from hunting whales in the Antarctic Ocean. Conservationists hailed the ruling as a victory, but Tokyo says it will submit revised plans for a whale hunt in 2015. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video A Dinosaur Fit for Land and Water

Residents and tourists in Washington D.C. can now examine a life-size replica of an unusual dinosaur that lived almost a hundred million years ago in northern Africa. Scientists say studying the behemoth named Spinosaurus helps them better understand how some prehistoric animals adapted to life on land and in water. The Spinosaurus replica is on display at the National Geographic museum. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.

AppleAndroid