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

Taliban's New Leader Says Jihad Will Continue

Top US Afghan diplomat also meets with Pakistani, Afghan officials following news of Mullah Omar's death More

Video US Landmark Pushes Endangered Species

People gathered in streets, on rooftops in Manhattan to see image highlights that covered 33 floors of Empire State Building More

World’s Widest Suspension Bridge Being Built Over Bosphorus

Once built, Yavuz Sultan Selim Bridge will span 2 kilometers with about 1.5 kilometers over water, and will be longest suspension bridge in world carrying rail system More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Iraqi Yazidis Fear Death of Their Communityi
X
Sharon Behn
August 03, 2015 2:23 PM
A year ago on August 3, Islamic State militants stormed the homelands of Iraq’s Yazidi minority, killing hundreds of men and enslaving thousands of women. The scenes of desperate Yazidi families crowding on the top of Sinjar mountain without food or water spurred Kurdish fighters into action, an emergency airlift and the start of the U.S. airstrike campaign against the Islamic State Sunni extremists. VOA's Sharon Benh reports from northern Iraq.
Video

Video Iraqi Yazidis Fear Death of Their Community

A year ago on August 3, Islamic State militants stormed the homelands of Iraq’s Yazidi minority, killing hundreds of men and enslaving thousands of women. The scenes of desperate Yazidi families crowding on the top of Sinjar mountain without food or water spurred Kurdish fighters into action, an emergency airlift and the start of the U.S. airstrike campaign against the Islamic State Sunni extremists. VOA's Sharon Benh reports from northern Iraq.
Video

Video Bangkok Warned It Soon Could Be Submerged

Italy's Venice and America's New Orleans are not the only cities gradually submerging. The nearly ten million residents of the Bangkok urban area now must confront warnings the city could become uninhabitable in a few decades. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from the Thai capital.
Video

Video Inclusive Gym Gets People With Disabilities in Fitness Spirit

Individuals with special needs are 58 percent more likely to be obese than the general population. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, they also have an increased likelihood of anxiety, depression and social isolation. But a sports club outside Washington wants to make a difference in these people's lives. With Carol Pearson narrating, VOA's June Soh reports.
Video

Video Astronauts Train Underwater for Deep Space Missions

Manned deep space missions are still a long way off, but space agencies are already testing procedures, equipment and human stamina for operations in extreme environment conditions. Small groups of astronauts take turns in spending days in an underwater lab, off Florida’s southern coast, simulating future missions to some remote world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Special Olympics Show Competitors' Skill, Determination

Special Olympics competitions will wrap up Saturday in Los Angeles, and the closing ceremony for athletes with intellectual disabilities will be held Sunday night. In a week of competition, athletes have shown what they can do through skill and determination. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports.
Video

Video Civil Rights Leaders Struggled to Achieve Voting Rights Act

Fifty years ago, lawmakers approved, and U.S. President Lyndon Johnson signed, the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The measure outlawed racial discrimination in voting, giving millions of blacks in many parts of the southern United States federal enforcement of the right to vote. Correspondent Chris Simkins introduces us to some civil rights leaders who were on the front lines in the struggle for voting rights.
Video

Video Shooter’s Grill: Serving Food with a Touch of the Second Amendment

Shooter's Grill, a restaurant in Rifle, Colorado, attracts visitors from all over the world as well as local patrons. The reason? Waitresses openly carry loaded firearms as they serve food, and customers are welcome to carry them, too. VOA's Enming Liu and Lin Yang paid a visit to Shooter's Grill, and heard different opinions about this unique establishment.
Video

Video Despite Controversy, Business Owner Continues Sale of Confederate Flags

At Cooter’s, a store in rural Sperryville, Virginia, about 120 kilometers west of Washington, D.C., Confederate flags are flying off the shelves. The red, white and blue battle flag, with 13 white stars representing the Confederate states, was carried by southern forces during the U.S. Civil War in the 1860s. The South had seceded from the Union over several key issues of disagreement, including slavery. VOA’s Deborah Block has the story.
Video

Video Booming London Property a ‘Haven for Dirty Money’

Billions of dollars of so-called ‘dirty money’ from the proceeds of crime - especially from Russia - are being laundered through the London property market, according to anti-corruption activists. As Henry Ridgwell reports from the British capital, the government has pledged to crack down on the practice.
Video

Video Hometown of Boy Scouts of America Founder Reacts to Gay Leader Decision

Ottawa, Illinois, is the hometown of W.D. Boyce, who founded the Boy Scouts of America in 1910. In Ottawa, where Scouting remains an important part of the legacy of the community, the end of the organization's ban on openly gay adult leaders was seen as inevitable. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

VOA Blogs