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Nearly a thousand teachers from public schools in Lianjiang held a demonstration on 29 June 2013 against unjustified salary deductions and delayed payment of social insurance premiums. Unable to give an explanation about the education budget and allocation, the municipal government called in the principals of the schools involved and issued an administrative order to ban the teachers from protesting at the government office. Moreover, teachers were threatened with dismissal and blacklisting. Other teachers were locked out or forced to sign statements declaring they would not participate in demonstrations and strikes. Police was sent to guard the government office and to detain teacher representatives.

On 25 July 2013, 246 workers at Qunyi Footwear Company in Nanhai held a protest when they found out that their employer had run away without settling their wages. 29 workers were arrested and put under criminal detention for seven days for “assembling a crowd and disrupting traffic.”

On 28 January 2013, workers at Tokai Rubber Industries in Guangzhou put down their tools after the representatives they elected had failed to reach a settlement with the employer about a cut in their year-end bonus. They staged a sit-in at the factory complex and were dispersed by more than 200 police officers sent by the district government. Five workers were injured and more than 10 workers were put under administrative detention.

On 8 November 2013, 200 workers at Shenzhen Lingjin Electronics Co. Ltd blocked the factory entrance to demand a negotiation with the employer about the relocation of the plant. Refusing to negotiate, the employer called the police to arrest all the seven elected workers’ representatives. Police in plain clothes were sent to identify the active workers. On 16 November 2013, police searched the apartments of the identified workers and harassed their families.The employer threatened the workers with dismissal and government representatives pressured workers to settle for a low compensation.

On 7 November 2013, 2000 workers from Towada Electronics Company (Dongguan) went on strike after they were told by management that the company was sold. Workers demanded severance compensation and the election of new trade union representatives before signing a new contract. Refusing to negotiate with the workers’ representatives, the management dismissed and demoted the junior management who took part in the strike and warned supervisors. Plain clothes and police were sent in to follow the leaders and monitor the online discussion blogs established by workers. One worker was detained on 13 November 2013 and only released after workers blocked the company entrance.

Nokia’s Dongguan plant started to lay off a hundred workers since August 2013 under the company’s global retrenchment scheme and buyout to Microsoft. At the same time, a number of unskilled workers were recruited in October to do packaging and labeling. About 3000 workers went on strike on 19 November 2013 when the management released a new set of work rules which would allow the company to put workers under low-pay leave whenever there was less work to do. Mistrusting the enterprise union which was appointed by the management, the strikers elected their own representatives and handed a thousand signatures to the management for a negotiation. Management did not accept to start negotiations and sent dismissal notices via telephone messages from unknown sources. Management promised bonuses to workers who agreed to return to work. On 26 November 2013, anti-riot police and police plain clothes were sent to the workplace leading to a physical clash and the detention of four workers. These measures worked to break up the strike and most of the workers returned to work on 27 November 2013. 213 workers were sacked in total for illegal assembly and violating the company rules. Nokia refused their reinstatement during an arbitration hearing on 20 January 2014, claiming that the workers had already been replaced.

More than 200 workers from Framas Dongguan Plastic Ltd put down their tools from 27-30 September 2013 to protest the cancellation of the National Day bonus. Eleven supervisors who had taken part in the strike were sacked on 30 September 2013.

69 workers including fourteen workers’ representatives from Heng T Rubber (Shenzhen) were sacked between 19 and 21 October 2013 for taking part in a strike on 14 October 2013. They were protesting against the installation of CCTV at the shopfloor. The dismissed workers proceeded to labour arbitration for reinstatement.

The Shenzhen government imposes a ban on strikes in the public utility sector, namely water, electricity, gas supply and public transportation (Regulations of the Shenzhen Special Economic Zone on the Promotion of the Harmonious Labor Relationship of Shenzhen Municipality (2008)).

Labour strikes and workers’ requests for bargaining are treated as social stability and public security issues by the local governments. The Trade Union Law also obliges the only trade union, the ACFTU to restore production and order when a stoppage of work occurs. In the absence of a national law on strikes and collective bargaining, guidelines have been issued by local governments and labour bureaus to form stability committees composed of government representatives, the branch committees of the Chinese Communist Party and the federation of trade unions to step in and resume work on the shopfloor. The standards of these mediation guidelines are uneven enabling the local government officers to interfere in the negotiation and bargaining process between workers and employers. The labour authority and trade union federations are requested to persuade strikers to return to work while the mediation is going on, and to take part in the negotiation and settlement.

After Baring Private Equity Asia Group bought the fast food chain Golden Hans in January 2013 it refused to negotiate severance pay and new contracts with workers. In the acquisition of the fast food chain store, Golden Hans by Baring Private Equity Asia Group in January 2013, the new management had refused to negotiate the settlement of workers’ severance and a new contract. An eight-person committee was formed to represent more than 6000 employees from all branches and signatures were collected to demand a negotiation with the new management. However the new management did not attend the negotiation meeting scheduled for 4 September 2013. Subsequently, four workers’ representatives were sacked.

20 workers were sacked on 10 March 2014 by IBM Systems Technology Company (ISTC) in Shenzhen for participating in a strike over the merger of the company with Lenovo. ISTC promised workers they would maintain the same working conditions and salaries after the merger. The company asked the workers to choose between claiming their severance compensation with ISTC and preserving their seniority in the new contract. Workers did not accept this plan and went on a strike on 3 March 2014. However, ISTC refused to negotiate with workers’ representatives and started to harass elected union leaders with text messages. On 10 March 2014, management dismissed 20 workers who were leading the strike for absence from work, assembling a crowd, disturbing production and breaching the company rules.

Employers, in particular the multinational companies, have not shown good faith in bargaining with workers and the trade union during corporate re-structuring and retrenchment. About one third of the strike cases documented in 2013 are disputes related to retrenchment and restructuring. Workers and trade unions are not informed and consulted in advance. Employers reject to negotiate with workers’ representatives or the trade union even when workers declare strike action. Instead of consulting with the trade union at the enterprise, Walmart closed down 20 stores after securing the consent of the local government. Workers were informed of the decision and were given 15 days to sign up to the severance compensation required by law without any negotiation. Walmart did not abide by the legal requirement to negotiate an agreement 30 days before terminating the employment contracts.
147 employees and the store union representatives at Huaian store of Jiangsu province were informed about their dismissals on 5 November 2013, a fortnight before the store closure. On 3 December 2013, employees of Chengyang store of Qingdao city were given two weeks to sign the company’s severance plan. On 5 December 2013, a hundred workers from Jinghua store in Luoyang city blocked the street to protest the store closure right after learning that the store was closing on 19 December. Previously another hundred workers of the store had been retrenched by the management using different excuses. Workers at the Maonshan store of Liaoning province also staged a protest and clashed with police on 19 March 2014. On 5 March 2014, 143 workers at Chengde store in Hunan province staged a protest and demanded economic compensation from Walmart. The mediation meetings facilitated by the government and labour bureau representatives were targeted at pressuring the enterprise level unions to drop their demands. Walmart refused further negotiation with the union and announced the automatic termination of workers’ contract after 28 March 2014.

Sixteen agency workers employed at Changsha GACC-Johnson Controls Interiors Systems were dismissed for leading a strike. About 90 per cent of the employees of the Hunan based auto parts company, Changsha GACC-Johnson Controls Interiors Systems Co. Ltd., are agency workers. The district federation of trade union claims that 80 per cent of the agency workers are unionised. However, those unions were formed at the agencies at the request of the government rather than by the agency workers at the place of work. Agency workers are therefore not covered by a collective agreement at their workplace. Therefore, they started a strike on 7 January 2014 demanding an increase in their basic salary. Representatives from the district government, public security, the labour bureau and the district trade union federation stepped in to press the strikers return to work. On the same day, the management terminated the service of sixteen leading strikers and requested the agency company to sack them claiming they were provoking the strike and violated the company rules. Other strikers were promised bonuses and returned to work on 11 January 2014.

The revised Labour Contract Law effective from January 2013 defines the scope of agency work and restricts the use of agency workers to temporary (less than six months), auxiliary and substitute posts.
The Agency Work Regulation is effective from March 2014 and limits the number of agency workers to not more than ten per cent of the total workforce of an enterprise and protects their equal remuneration. Before assigning positions to agency workers, the employer needs to consult and discuss with the trade union and workers’ representatives. However, the new regulation does not have provision on the right of the agency workers to form and join trade union.

The ACFTU’s Directive on Organising Agency Workers to Join the Trade Union passed in 2009 allows agency workers to join the trade union at the agency company rather than at the place of work. Agency workers are also not covered by collective agreements at the work place.

Union elections04-08-2014

Although the trade union law and ACFTU directives allow the election of trade union committees and chairpersons, most of the trade unions at the enterprise level in China are not directly elected by workers. In practice, the Chairperson of trade unions at enterprise level is the Deputy Secretary of the branch office of the Chinese Communist Party; and the Vice-Chairperson and committee members come from the management. Even if there are elections, they are conducted by the federation and the employers and are not democratic or transparent. The lack of financial independence of trade unions at enterprise level also undermines their capacity to represent their members’ interests.
Two joint studies released in 2013 by students from nine universities in China show that the trade union elections conducted in five foreign invested enterprises in Guangdong province and three plants of Foxconn in Shenzhen and Wuhan city were flawed in a number of ways.
For example, supervisors did not allow some workers to participate in the vote which was held during working hours. The nomination of the candidates was not open and transparent but dominated by the election preparatory committee consisting of leaders of the federation and company representatives. As a result, most candidates are supervisors. Single-candidate elections were not uncommon and elections were often held without adequate time for workers to question candidates.

Around 2000 to 3000 workers at three facilities of Shenzhen ASM Micro Electronic Technology Company Limited put down their tools on 31 October 2013 and started 22-day strike over severance and compensation concerning the relocation of the plants to another site. The trade union leadership, which had been in place since 2006, resigned over the matter and the workers held a new election. On 20 November 2013, management tried to undermine the strike by offering a 20 per cent increase in salaries to workers who were willing to accept relocation to the new site and threatening to dismiss workers refused. Moreover, police was deployed to disperse the workers on 21 November 2013. On the next day workers returned to work and seven workers’ representatives were sacked.

In the Yntai Dongxing Pipeline case, management, together with the ACFTU (All-China Federation of Trade Unions), by-passed the decision of union members concerning wage increases and the election of a local union chairperson. The strikes that were about to follow as a reaction were undermined when workers were threatened to be dismissed on 5 August 2013.

Five workers at the US-owned company “International Paper” were dismissed after they had taken part in a two-day strike on 19-20 February 2013 against unequal remuneration and bonuses. The company argued workers did not observe their obligations when they returned to work on 21 February 2013. While the arbitration court ruled that their dismissal was illegal, the company was not condemned to any penalty and was not ordered to reinstate workers. This case is emblematic of how the lack of effective legal remedies against anti-union discrimination is exposing workers to abuses by employers.

Thousands of workers, who have been retrenched by the China Construction Bank and other commercial banks ten years ago, were protesting their situation in May and July 2013. On 22 July, the protest was violently repressed and a hundred of protesters were sent to Majialou and Jiujingzhuang blackjails, from which they were released after having staged a hunger strike. However, workers have continued to seek their rights through protests in October 2013, even though the government tries to silence workers through various forms of abuses such as forced labour and illegal detentions in disguised camps.

About 160 self-employed taxi drivers from Shuangliu county announced a strike on 28 January 2013. Workers wanted to protest against irregular licence renewal fees and the restructuring of the self-employed taxi drivers into taxi companies. However, about 100 workers were stopped by force from reaching Beijing and sent back to Shuangliu by force. They were blocked by the county government officials before arriving Beijing and brought back to the county under administrative detention. The workers petitioned to the Transportation Ministry in Beijing in April 2013. Three workers are still in custody and are charged for illegal assembly. Their application for bail was denied and hearings have been postponed without justification. The case is still pending before the courts.

Twelve security workers were prosecuted on charges of illegal assembly and disruption of the public order after a protest at the First Hospital of Chinese Medical University of Guangzhou city on 20 August 2013. Workers were demanding social security protection for agency workers. The hearing for the case was delayed for more than seven months.

Workers at the Diweixin Product Factory in Shenzhen (southern China) sought negotiations earlier this year in response to concerns about production cutbacks and apparent preparations for relocation to another site in the Chinese interior. However, management refused to disclose any information and to enter into negotiations. On 7 May 2013, workers downed tools and petitioned the local government to intervene. Police responded by arresting and detaining 20 workers on 23 May 2013. Wu Guijun, one of the representatives during the negotiations, was charged for “assembling a crowd to disturb social order”.

All the local wage negotiation legislation excludes agency workers. The only exception is Wuxi city in Jiangsu province, which allows the agency workers to take part in the collective negotiation with the company where they work. Although there is no provision barring agency workers from joining a trade union in Chinese law, they are allowed to join the trade union only in the agency company as stated in the ACFTU Directive passed in 2009.

On 28 December 2011, all the workers from Shihe Wood (Shanghai) staged a three-day strike to demand that management negotiate a settlement plan for the layoffs. The management put up a warning on 29 and 30 December requesting that workers return to work and subsequently fired 400 workers. Some of them took the company to court for illegal dismissal demanding compensation. Yuan, one of the plaintiffs, lost the case in the Court of First Instance and then in the intermediate court on 24 August 2012. Yuan was condemned for having broken company rules prohibiting absenteeism for three days, as well as participating in an illegal strike and inciting others to strike.

Flextronics’s factory in Shenzhen demanded that strikers sign a no-strike agreement before they were allowed to return to work. The management posted a warning letter on 30 October 2012 declaring that they would dismiss all workers who refused to return to work on 31 October 2012 for violating the company code and the Labour Law and offering a cash reward of RMB 200 to those who had not participated in the strike.

The All China Federation of Trade Unions (ACFTU) has not been involved in a majority of disputes and collective actions in the major manufacturing zones where most private business is located and where most of the workers are internal migrant workers. Only some workers know of the existence of trade unions in their enterprises, and very few would seek assistance from the trade union in cases of rights abuse. This lack of assistance is one of the most important factors behind the rise of civil society labour groups providing legal and other services for mainly migrant (internal) workers. This has led some ACFTU branches to offer legal-aid-related services while continuing to avoid direct engagement in workers’ collective disputes and protests at the plant level.


The number of strikes - both spontaneous and organised, but without the official recognition of the union - has continued to increase, especially among private enterprise workers. Privatisation and the ensuing redundancy it engenders is a major cause of labour unrest for state-owned enterprise workers while low pay, unpaid wages and poor working conditions are among the largest causes of strikes in the private sector. Figures suggest that each day around 1,000 workers are involved in industrial action in Guangdong Province alone.

Strikes and collective protests are often dispersed violently by armed police, and prominent strikers are picked up by the police and warned or charged with public order offences, traffic violations, breaking the law on parades and demonstrations, or more rarely serious political charges. Companies regularly dismiss and blacklist workers who have led or participated in strikes. In some instances, companies also hire men to beat and threaten workers protesting missing wages or taking other forms of industrial action, often with deadly results.

The increasingly commonplace nature of strikes has meant that despite the ambiguity of their legal position, some local authorities have been less hostile towards strikes, and more strikes appear to be successful. In response to the labour unrest, there have also been increases to the minimum wage figures in many regions.

Although the Trade Union Law states that trade union officers at each level should be elected, most officials are appointed. In addition, elected candidates are subject to approval by the provincial-level All China Federation of Trade Unions (ACFTU) committees.

Many provinces have developed, or are in the process of developing, regulations concerning the obligation to hold trade union elections as stipulated in the Trade Union Law and increasingly by workers. In the wake of its inaction during the strikes at Honda in 2010, the union there agreed to hold elections directly for its enterprise officials as demanded by workers. Despite the potential repercussions there are some grassroots enterprise unions formed by the workers themselves through the use of official factory elections which are of some benefit to the workers. The adoption of collective bargaining to resolve disputes has recently seen a minimal increase. In April, it was reported that a new union established by and for migrant workers in Tianjin managed to negotiate a collective agreement on pay rises, working conditions and working hours with a local labour supply agency.

No independent trade unions are allowed. Organisers of workers’ groups or protests are often arrested, and some are sentenced to terms of imprisonment (officially called “reform through labour”, or “lao gai”) after criminal trials that fall well short of international standards. Others can be assigned to terms of “re-education through labour”, an administrative process which bypasses the few safeguards of the criminal justice system. Strikers often are detained for a few days or weeks to avoid any risk of martyrdom for long- term detainees. The fear of detention also makes negotiations between workers’ representatives and the authorities and employers extremely difficult.
The continued use and abuse of extensive state secrets legislation including laws classifying labour-related statistics as state secrets means that labour activists can be charged with “disclosing state secrets” for their work.

Production lines were stopped in a strike at the Foshan Honda plant in May. The strike led to Foshan Honda eventually offering 1,900 workers in Foshan a 24 to 32% pay raise. The strikers were prepared to accept an increase of their monthly wage by 800 Yuan and nothing less. After an initial strike on 17 May Honda persuaded the workers to return to work the next day promising to consider the demands. However, when no deal had been struck by 21 May, the workers went back on strike. Anticipating retaliation and no support from the official trade union, the two workers who led the strike, Tan Guocheng and Xiao Lang, quit and left the workplace not long after the strike. The negotiation representatives elected by the workers were also subject to pressure from both management and the government. On 4 June, after negotiations involving the local government in Foshan and Japanese executives, Honda agreed to the large pay raise, though short of the workers’ demands.

In June some 1,500 workers at the Honda Lock factory in Guangdong disrupted production for a week over pay. The dispute was finally resolved with management agreeing to increase wages. Previous strikes at Guangqi Honda were also resolved. In July, strikes broke out at another Honda parts factory, Sumitec Co. in Foshan, after workers demanded higher pay rates which they had calculated after researching comparative rates in the region. They also asked the company to apologise over its threats to fire 90 workers involved in the complaint and to promise not to lay off any employees for the next two years.

Strikers were also calling for the election of workers’ own representatives and the re-election of trade union officials after the union had done nothing to support them, siding instead with management. With the intervention of the upper level trade union, re-elections of the trade union officers were held at the Foshan Honda plant after the strike.

Hundreds of further strikes were reported during May, June and July in car manufacturing and electronics in the south but also in Shanghai and Tianjin, and included strikes at other Honda and Toyota factories.

Reports continue of poor working conditions, including the denial of basic trade union rights and freedom of association in Chinese-owned enterprises, including major state- owned companies. This is of particular concern in the extractive industry and large construction projects in countries such as in Africa but also those in the Middle East. Chinese workers who complain of poor conditions have faced repercussions on their return to China.

The number of strikes - both spontaneous and planned, but without the official recognition of the union - has continued to increase, especially among private enterprise workers. Privatisation and the ensuing redundancy it engenders is a major cause of labour unrest for state-owned enterprise workers while low pay, unpaid wages and poor working conditions are among the largest causes of strikes in the private sector. Figures suggest that each day around 1.000 workers are involved in industrial action in Guangdong Province alone.

Strikes and collective protests are often dispersed violently by armed police, and prominent strikers are picked up by the police and warned or charged with public order offences, traffic violations, breaking the law on parades and demonstrations, or more rarely serious political charges. Companies regularly dismiss and blacklist workers who have led or participated in strikes. In some instances, companies also hire men to beat and threaten workers protesting missing wages or taking other forms of industrial action, often with deadly results. Strike organisers and independent labour activists also face the administration threat of re-education through labour. Though in principle limited to three years, in practice these periods of forced labour can be extended without recourse to the criminal justice system.

The increasingly commonplace nature of strikes has meant that despite the ambiguity of their legal position, some local authorities have been less hostile towards strikes, and more strikes appear to be successful. In response to the labour unrest, there have also been increases to the minimum wage figures in many regions.

The All China Federation of Trade Unions (ACFTU) is the sole trade union body allowed to exist. Its role and the supervision of higher level branches over lower level branches was strengthened in the 2008 legislation, especially in resolving labour issues and helping promote the nationwide development of a “harmonious society” and a “harmonious workplace”. It works primarily on wage arrear campaigns, membership drives, pushing for wage increases, philanthropic work and encouraging collective consultation with employers and within industrial sectors.

The ACFTU played a significant role in the drafting of the 2008 Labour Contract Law and in implementing regulations, and it continues to focus its efforts on organising branches in private companies and Asian multinationals.

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