New day dawns for labor rights in Pearl River Delta
In the face of changing demographics, new rules are on the horizon to empower factory workers in disputes with employers in Guangdong, Emma Dai reports
For factory owners in Guangdong province, China’s manufacturing hub, the latest attempt by authorities to address labor rights is nothing new. Since the Labor Contract Law took effect in 2008, giving workers a say in collective bargaining has been building. This time, however, it looks quite real.
“Wo rke r s already have a lot of welfare. I don’t understand why Guangdong province has to implement the new labor regulation. This is very unfair to us manufacturers,” said Edward Tsui Ping-kwong, vice-president of the Chinese Manufacturers’ Association of Hong Kong. Tsui’s company, Shing Hing Industrial Ltd, produces a spectrum of screws, and targets automobile and aviation industries as major customers.
The labor regulation he referred to is the Guangdong Province Collective Contract Ordinance. Its latest draft was presented to provincial lawmakers — the Guangdong People’s Congress Standing Committee — in mid-April. On April 23, the committee decided to carry out a second review by the end ofMay.
The ordinance, expected to go through the local legislature this year, highlights collective bargaining rules empowering factory workers in negotiations over payment, holidays, extra insurance, training, layoff plans and other key issues. The draft indicates that when a proposal is agreed to by more than one-third of the staff, the labor union would be responsible for initiating negotiations with the company. Negotiations and relevant preparations should be counted as working hours and paid to labor representatives.
While both parties can initiate negotiations, both also should respond to each other within 20 days. Companies are not allowed to fire workers who stage strikes because employers failed to meet the deadline or refuse to talk for no reason.
On April 14, many workers at Yue Yuen Industrial (Holdings) Ltd factories, a Taiwanese shoemaker operated by Pou Chen Group, put down their pliers and glue, and raised banners and placards after learning that the company had failed to fully pay their social benefits for as long as a decade.
The factories make sports shoes for more than 20 international brands, including Nike, Adidas, Reebok and Timberland. On April 21, another 2,000 workers at the company’s factory in Jiangxi province in eastern China echoed their peers in the south.
After local authorities intervened, most of the workers had returned to the assembly line by April 25, but not before the shoemaker reported a loss of $58 million.
Earlier this year, 1,000 workers at an IBM Corp factory in Shenzhen, Guangdong, demonstrated for higher pay when the factory was about to be handed over to Lenovo Group Ltd, a Chinese PC producer. Half of the workers reportedly walked out afterIBMsacked 20 demonstrators.
Regarding the new labor regulation, Tsui of the manufacturers association said concern has spread among Hong Kong manufacturers that endless negotiations and sabotage may be their lot.