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.
TEXT SIZE - +
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 Pope Francis Hopes Dual Canonizations Will Reconcile Church

John the XXIII and John Paul II will be made saints in a ceremony at St. Peter’s Square on April 27 More

Thailand Reacts to Plots Targeting Israelis

Authorities hope arrest of two Lebanese suspects will disrupt plot to attack young Israeli tourists More

Video In Capturing Nature's Majesty, Film Makes Case for Its Survival

'Once Upon a Forest' takes viewers deep into heart of tropical rainforest More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Pope Francis Hopes Dual Canonizations Will Reconcile Churchi
|| 0:00:00
...
 
🔇
X
Jerome Socolovsky
April 22, 2014 4:14 PM
On April 27, two popes - John the XXIII and John Paul II - will be made saints in a ceremony at St. Peter’s Square. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky says the dual canonization is part of the current pope’s program to reconcile liberals and conservatives in the Roman Catholic Church.
Video

Video Pope Francis Hopes Dual Canonizations Will Reconcile Church

On April 27, two popes - John the XXIII and John Paul II - will be made saints in a ceremony at St. Peter’s Square. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky says the dual canonization is part of the current pope’s program to reconcile liberals and conservatives in the Roman Catholic Church.
Video

Video In Capturing Nature's Majesty, Film Makes Case for Its Survival

French filmmaker Luc Jacquet won worldwide acclaim for his 2005 Academy Award-winning documentary "March of the Penguins". Now Jacquet is back with a new film that takes movie-goers deep into the heart of a tropical rainforest - not only to celebrate its grandeur, but to make the case for its survival. VOA's Rosanne Skirble reports.
Video

Video Boston Marathon Bittersweet for Many Runners

Monday's running of the Boston Marathon was bittersweet for many of the 36,000 participants as they finished the run that was interrupted by a double bombing last year. Many gathered along the route paid respect to the four people killed as a result of two bombings near the finish line. VOA's Carolyn Presutti returned to Boston this year to follow two runners, forever changed because of the crimes.
Video

Video Pacific Rim Trade Deal Proves Elusive

With the U.S.-led war in Iraq ended and American military involvement in Afghanistan winding down, President Barack Obama has sought to pivot the country's foreign policy focus towards Asia. One aspect of that pivot is the negotiation of a free-trade agreement among 12 Pacific Rim nations. But as Obama leaves this week on a trip to four Asian countries he has found it very difficult to complete the trade pact. VOA's Ken Bredemeier has more from Washington.
Video

Video Robotic Mission Kicks Up Lunar Dust

A robotic mission to the moon was deliberately crashed onto the lunar surface late last week, but not before scientists had collected data gathered by the spacecraft which was designed to self-destruct. VOA's Rosanne Skirble reports on the preliminary findings of the craft, called LADEE - an acronym for Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer.
Video

Video Boko Haram Claims Responsibility for Bombing in Nigerian Capital

The Nigerian militant group known as Boko Haram has claimed responsibility for a bombing in the capital on April 14th that killed 75 people. In the video message, Abubakar Shekau, the man who says he ordered the bombing, says nothing about the mass abduction of more than 100 teenage girls, most of whom are still missing. Heather Murdock has more for VOA from Abuja.
Video

Video Ukraine Developments Hang Over Obama Trip to Asia

President Barack Obama's trip to Asia this week comes as concerns over Beijing's territorial ambitions are growing in the region. Those concerns have been compounded by Russia's recent actions in Ukraine and the possibility that Chinese strategists might be looking to Crimea as a model for its territorial disputes with its neighbors. VOA's Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
Video

Video Autistic Adults Face Housing, Job Challenges

Many parents of children with disabilities fear for the future of their adult child. It can be difficult to find services to help adults with disabilities - physical, mental or emotional - find work or live on their own. The mother of an autistic boy set up a foundation to advocate for the estimated 1.2 million American adults with autism, a developmental disorder that causes communication difficulties and often social difficulties. VOA's Faiza Elmasry reports.
AppleAndroid