06/23/2011, 00.00
CHINA
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Chinese factories hit by strikes over better pay but especially more respect

Workers in a South Korean-owned plant in Guangzhou and a Japanese-owned factory in Chang’an go on strike to demand higher wages, but above all respect and humane working conditions. They also want trade unions independent of the Communist Party.
Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) – More than 4,000 workers at the Hualong plant in Meishan village have been on strike for the past three days. The handbag factory is owned by South Korea’s Simone Ltd Co and is located in Guangzhou's Panyu district. Its workers want better pay and especially more respect and better working conditions. Workers’ protests are frequent in China. They are usually sparked by demands for higher wages but also for a less inhumane organisation of work.

Workers at the Hualong plant want a pay raise equal to the rising cost of living, especially food prices. They also complain of a “harsh working environment”.

There is tension at the plant. Strikers have complained that private security guards hired by the company beat up at least two workers, one of them a woman. So far, police are present at the site but have not intervened. But a large traffic jam also developed outside the factory.

The Guangzhou factory opened in 1992, hiring more than 4,000 workers, 80 per cent of them women, mostly from inland provinces. It manufactures international high-end handbags for designer brands such as Michael Kors, DKNY, Burberry, Kate Spade and Coach.

Workers complain that they have to stand 12 hours a day, cannot drink water during work and are given only one toilet break every four hours.

The average base monthly salary is 1,100 yuan for working eight hours a day, but those who work 12 hours a day can earn up to 1,900 yuan.

However, the company deducts 200 yuan for social security and 100 yuan every month for food if workers dine inside the plant. The food, workers say, “is like trash” and “unfit for human consumption”. The “rice served is sometimes black”.

Workers are demanding a base salary of 1,300 yuan, but more than that, they want to be “treated like human beings”, as some put it. They want more respect from bosses, who scold them in front of others, “confiscate our mobile phones” and check the women’s bathroom.

What is happening at this plant is symptomatic of widespread dissatisfaction that is turning into labour protests, as workers push for higher salaries, but also refuse to be denied their rights.

Last week, 2,000 workers went on strike at a plant in Chang’an (Dongguan) owned by the Citizen Watch Co. of Japan to protest against having to work 5-6 hours overtime without pay.

In this factory, wages are withheld from workers who are not at their post 10 minutes before their shift started.

China’s economic boom is thus also this: tens of millions of migrant workers toiling away for the whole day for paltry wages in inhuman conditions.

Companies are protected by local authorities, who are more interested in promoting industrial development. Workers are not protected by the country’s Communist Party-controlled single trade union.

This is why tens of thousands of labour protests break out every year over unpaid wages or oppressive working conditions.

Recently, Chinese dissidents, inspired by the Jasmine Revolution, have urged the country’s workers to go on strike between 15 and 25 June for better pay and improved working conditions as well as the right to set up independent trade unions.
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