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

China May Be Biggest Winner From Ukraine Crisis

Missile sales, oil and gas shipments are among many areas that may drive Beijing and Moscow closer together in coming years More

Obama Faces Chaotic World, Limits of Power

Current foreign policy issues bring into focus challenges for US policymakers who are mindful of Americans' waning appetite for overseas military engagements More

SADC Meeting Lesotho Officials to Resolve Stalemate

Official says regional bloc has been engaged with leaders in Lesotho to resolve political disagreement that led to coup attempt More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
West Africa Ebola Vaccine Trials Possible by Early 2015i
X
Carol Pearson
August 30, 2014 7:14 PM
A U.S. health agency is speeding up clinical trials of a possible vaccine against the deadly Ebola virus that so far has killed more than 1,500 people in West Africa. If successful, the next step would be a larger trial in countries where the outbreak is occurring. VOA's Carol Pearson has more.
Video

Video West Africa Ebola Vaccine Trials Possible by Early 2015

A U.S. health agency is speeding up clinical trials of a possible vaccine against the deadly Ebola virus that so far has killed more than 1,500 people in West Africa. If successful, the next step would be a larger trial in countries where the outbreak is occurring. VOA's Carol Pearson has more.
Video

Video Survivors Commemorate 70th Anniversary of Nazi Liquidation of Jewish Ghetto

When the German Nazi army occupied the Polish city of Lodz in 1939, it marked the beginning of a long nightmare for the Jewish community that once made up one third of the population. Roughly 200,000 people were forced into the Lodz Ghetto. Less than 7,000 survived. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, some survivors gathered at the Union League Club in Chicago on the 70th anniversary of the liquidation of the Lodz Ghetto to remember those who suffered at the hands of the Nazi regime.
Video

Video Cost to Raise Child in US Continues to Rise

The cost of raising a child in the United States continues to rise. In its latest annual report, the U.S. Department of Agriculture says middle income families with a child born in 2013 can expect to spend more than $240,000 before that child turns 18. And sending that child to college more than doubles that amount. VOA’s Deborah Block visited with a couple with one child in Alexandria, Virginia, to learn if the report reflects their lifestyle.
Video

Video Chaotic Afghan Vote Recount Threatens Nation’s Future

Afghanistan’s troubled presidential election continues to be rocked by turmoil as an audit of the ballots drags on. The U.N. says the recount will not be completed before September 10. Observers say repeated disputes and delays are threatening the orderly transfer of power and could have dangerous consequences. VOA correspondent Meredith Buel reports.
Video

Video Ukraine Battles Pro-Russia Rebel Assault

After NATO concluded an emergency meeting to discuss the crisis in eastern Ukraine, the country is struggling to contain heavy fighting near the strategic port of Mariupol, on the Azov Sea. Separatist rebels are trying to capture the city, allegedly with Russian military help, and Ukraine's defense forces are digging in. VOA's Daniel Schearf spoke with analysts about what lies ahead for Ukraine.
Video

Video Growing Business Offers Paint with a Twist of Wine

Two New Orleans area women started a small business seven years ago with one thing in mind: to help their neighbors relieve the stress of coping with a hurricane's aftermath. Today their business, which pairs painting and a little bit of wine, has become one of the fastest growing franchises across the U.S. VOA’s June Soh met the entrepreneurs at their newest franchise location in the Washington suburbs.
Video

Video Ebola Vaccine Trials To Begin Next Week

The National Institutes of Health says it is launching early stage trials of a vaccine to prevent the Ebola virus, which has infected or killed thousands of people across West Africa. The World Health Organization says Ebola could infect more than 20,000 people across the region by the time the outbreak is over. The epidemic has health experts and governments scrambling to prevent more people from becoming infected. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Asian Bacteria Threatens Florida Orange Trees

Florida's citrus fruit industry is facing a serious threat from a bacteria carried by the Asian insect called psyllid. The widespread infestation again highlights the danger of transferring non-native species to American soil. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Aging Will Reduce Economic Growth Worldwide in Coming Decades

The world is getting older, fast. And as more people retire each year, fewer working-age people will be there to replace them. Bond rating agency Moody’s says that will lead to a decline in household savings; reducing global investments - which in turn, will lead to slower economic growth around the world. But experts say it’s not too late to mitigate the economic impact of the world’s aging populations. Mil Arcega has more.
Video

Video Is West Doing Enough to Tackle Islamic State?

U.S. President Barack Obama has ruled out sending ground troops to Iraq to fight militants of the so-called Islamic State, or ISIS, despite officials in Washington describing the extremist group as the biggest threat the United States has faced in years. Henry Ridgwell reports from London on the growing uncertainty over whether the West’s response to ISIS will be enough to defeat the terrorist threat.
Video

Video Coalition to Fight Islamic State Could Reward Assad

The United States along with European and Mideast allies are considering a broader assault against Islamic State fighters who have spread from Syria into Iraq and risk further destabilizing an already troubled region. But as VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports, confronting those militants could end up helping the embattled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Video

Video Made in America Socks Get Toehold in Online Fashion Market

Three young entrepreneurs are hoping to revolutionize the high-end sock industry by introducing all-American creations of their own. And they’re doing most of it the old-fashioned way. VOA’s Julie Taboh recently caught up with them to learn what goes into making their one-of-a-kind socks.
Video

Video Americans, Ex-Pats Send Relief Supplies to West Africa

Health organizations from around the world are sending supplies and specialists to the West African countries that are dealing with the worst Ebola outbreak in history. On a smaller scale, ordinary Americans and African expatriates living in the United States are doing the same. VOA's Carol Pearson reports.

AppleAndroid