Over 10,000 workers of the Japanese-invested Uniden Electronics factory in Fuyong
Town, Shenzhen, have been staging a massive strike action since 17 April 2005
in an effort to win the right to set up their own trade union in the factory.
To China Labour Bulletin's knowledge, this is the first time Chinese workers have
ever staged a strike specifically in order to form a trade union.
On 20 April, large numbers of riot police sealed off the factory entrance to
prevent the protesting workers, mostly women, from marching out of the factory,
apparently reflecting official fear their strike action could trigger anti-Japanese
protests elsewhere in the city. According to media reports, this is the fourth
or fifth such strike to have occurred at the factory since it was first opened
The workers are staging the strike in protest against the Uniden management's
refusal to allow them to establish a trade union branch, and they have vowed
to continue the strike until the company accedes to this demand. According to
a message posted on a mainland online bulletin board, the strike began after
managers at the Japanese cordless phone making firm, which supplies in large
quantity to the giant American retailer Wal-Mart, recently issued and distributed
a statement to the Chinese workforce containing "threatening and insulting
In December 2004, following reports that a Japanese supervisor had beaten up
several workers at the Uniden factory, several thousand workers there staged
a similar strike protest. At that time, the workers sent a collective petition
to the factory management listing a total of fifteen demands. Among them: 1)
that workers should be allowed to set up a trade union at the factory, as agreed
to by Uniden management in the year 2000; 2) that 60 percent of normal wages
should be paid during sick leave and maternity leave (currently, the workers
receive no pay at these times, indeed they reportedly have to pay the company
"living allowance" fines); 3) in accordance with China's Labour Law,
workers with ten or more years of seniority should be offered permanent contracts
and no arbitrary dismissals should take place; and 4) that the quality of meals
and the water supply in the workers' hostel should be improved.
After the December 2004 strike, Uniden management promised to raise the workers'
salaries and said it would permit the workers to set up a trade union. But according
to another message posted on the online bulletin board, a new Japanese manager
was appointed at the factory shortly thereafter, and he proceeded to break all
the company's promises. Several workers who had led the strike were subsequently
sacked, and instead of providing the workers with one-year contracts as it had
agreed, the company downgraded many of their contracts to only three months.
Moreover, Uniden's promise to let the workers form their own trade union was
withdrawn without explanation. The one positive outcome of the December strike
– the workers' wages were raised to the Shenzhen legal minimum of around
480 Yuan per month – was quickly undermined by management demands that
new and excessively long periods of overtime be worked.
Sorry – It's the Law!
The Uniden workers' demand to be allowed to set up a trade union at the factory
is fully in accordance with China's existing laws. In fact, Article 10 of the
PRC Trade Union Law positively requires that a union branch be set up in any
workplace employing twenty-five or more workers. In addition, shortly before
Wal-Mart's announcement last winter that it would finally allow trade unions
to be established in its stores in China, following weeks of high-profile criticism
by mainland authorities against multinational companies for resisting any such
moves, the Guangdong Provincial People's Congress passed a local law - the "Implementing
Regulations for the Trade Union Law" – which gave further teeth to
the existing legislation in this area. According to Article 5 of the new regulations,
which came into force on 1 November 2004, any ten or more workers employed at
factories in Guangdong Province that currently have no official trade union
branch are now accorded the legal right to begin the process of establishing
a trade union on their own.
Since the Uniden workers' demand to be allowed set up a trade union at the
factory is fully protected by Chinese law, China Labour Bulletin calls upon
the Shenzhen government to refrain from taking any form of police action or
other repressive measures against the thousands of workers currently staging
a mass sit-in occupation of the factory premises. The police blockade of the
factory should be lifted forthwith, and both the local authorities and the All-China
Federation of Trade Unions (ACFTU) should send representatives to actively negotiate
with the Uniden management on the striking workers' behalf.
In a similarly large-scale workers' protest action at the Xianyang Huarun Textile
Factory in Xianyang city, Shaanxi Province, in September and October last year,
about 7,000 workers, mostly women, staged a seven week-long strike against the
management's attempts to impose unfair new labour contracts. In the final days
of the strike, more than twenty of the workers' leaders were arrested by the
police after the local authorities learned that they were about to elect a factory-level
trade union and attempt to register it with the official trade union body, the
ACFTU. Apparently in response to a softening of central government policy on
the handling of "sudden incidents" in society, as conveyed to the
Shaanxi police force by the Minister of Public Security around the same time,
the local authorities eventually freed all of the worker detainees.
In the case of the strike action now underway at the Uniden factory, the Shenzhen
government should take all possible steps to avoid the kind of confrontation
and repression that occurred in Xianyang last October. "The Shenzhen authorities
have a golden opportunity to respond to the Uniden workers' legitimate desire
to found a trade union in an enlightened and constructive manner," said
Han Dongfang, CLB's director. "The law entitles Chinese workers to form
trade unions, and the law must be respected."
For further information on the Xianyang case, see CLB