03/05/2007, 00.00
CHINA
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Democratic unions against European and US exploitation of industry workers

The noted Chinese union leader Han Dongfang speaks out against the exploitation of workers by foreign companies. Public authorities rarely intervene. Independent workers organisations are needed to evaluate rising popular dissent. Migrant’s situation particularly precarious.
Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies)- Workers rights can only be protected by organised workers. That is according to the dissident unionist leader Han Dongfang. Han finds the workers hopes that the foreign companies will promote improved working conditions in China “illogical”. “It is naive to expect foreign investors to promote good labour practices. In fact, the reason they go to China is to take advantage of cheap labour and improve their profits”. Even if these companies “have codes of conduct to safeguard there workers at home, experience shows that they are not applied abroad in China”.
 
Han founded the first independent workers union in China in ’89 (during the Tiananmen square demonstrations) he spent 3 years in jail, following which he was freed and expelled from China on health grounds. He now works from Hong Kong where he directs the China Labour Bulletin, in which these opinions were. “Two months ago, the National People's Congress introduced a new law aimed at enforcing collective labour contracts. The American and European Chambers of Congress in Shanghai immediately opposed it, threatening that businesses would leave China if the law were adopted. Not only does foreign investment fail to promote labour rights, foreign corporations use all their power to stifle any reforms – even those introduced by the Chinese government”.
 
Experts observe how often the foreign industry often opposes company union constitutions, which they claim will limit their control of work organization. Moreover they maintain that the same Chinese authorities show little interest in protecting workers rights, their main concern being attracting foreign investment to the country. But Han points out that not only does this result in worker exploitation, but there is also a cost to business. He gives the example of Stella shoe factory in Xing Xiong. The workers who were not paid for over three months protested which led to police intervention and many arrests and convictions, which were eventually successfully overturned. Throughout the protests, productivity at the Stella plants plummeted.
 
A recent report by Amnesty International has denounced that migrant workers are often considered “people without any value” by the government. They have no health assistance and their children can't go to a public school because the fees are too high or there aren't enough spaces. They are forced into unauthorized” migrant schools” that can be closed down at short notice by the government.
 
Han concludes that “the only way good labour practices can be promoted is through the organisation of workers”. He observes that “there were more than 87,000 human rights protests in China in 2005, a 17% increase from the previous year. Most were workers' actions. Not only are more actions happening, they are happening more constructively with more tangible results. The future of China must be built on a new foundation of the rule of law and participatory civil society”. (PB)
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