Thousands of Apple Supplier Workers Turn Out in Shanghai Pay Protest

2020-12-21
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Thousands of Apple Supplier Workers Turn Out in Shanghai Pay Protest Workers at Apple's Taiwan-invested Pegatron facility in Shanghai go on strike, Dec. 19, 2020.
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Workers at Apple supplier Pegatron's Shanghai factory turned out to protest over a pay dispute with management at the weekend.

Thousands of temporary workers gathered outside the Taiwanese-invested Pegatron facility in Shanghai on Saturday, as authorities dispatched large numbers of police to block their entrance to the facility, sparking clashes.

The protest came after Pegatron tried to transfer thousands of workers from its Shanghai factory to another facility at Kunshan in the eastern province of Jiangsu.

Those who refused the transfer would be fired, and workers fired for refusing the offer wouldn't be eligible for their share of finders' fee commission usually shared between recruitment agencies and workers, protesters told RFA.

Such fees form a substantial part of temporary workers' overall remuneration package, with a worker set to accumulate 11,000 yuan in such payments after 55 days working at Pegatron, they said.

After senior officials came out to speak to protesters and negotiate a settlement, Pegatron said it would revise the relocation package to ensure that transferring workers would retain all of their existing salary and benefits.

The protest came after Apple put Pegatron -- which makes iPhones -- on probation last month after finding that the company violated Apple's supplier code of conduct.

"Several weeks ago, we discovered Pegatron -- one of Apple's suppliers in China -- violated Apple's Supplier Code of Conduct in its administration of a student work-study program," Apple said in a statement, adding that the company wouldn't be receiving any new orders during the probation period.

Competing for workers

Li Qiang, who heads the rights group China Labor Watch, said that the four months beginning in September each year are the peak production seasons for Apple suppliers.

"They need to recruit millions of workers in a short period of time," Li told RFA. "If they can’t get them, they have to use a lot of intermediaries, recuitment companies to do it for them."

"They then promise higher salaries [to compete for workers]."

"For example, if they work for 55 days, in addition to the normal salary, [the recruitment companies] may pay them from 10,000 yuan or even as much as 17,000 yuan as a bonus," he said.

"10,000 yuan is not a small amount [for them to lose in the relocation package]."

Forced relocations

Lawyer Wang Shengsheng said some of the contracts contain "trap clauses" enabling companies to relocate workers at will.

"For example, they go where jobs are allocated," Wang said. "They want them to move from city to city, but they have their lives, their families, and jobs in one place."

"Making them go to work in a different city, or even a different district in the same city, causes a lot of disruption, and cost them more in living expenses," she said.

Wang said the authorities have a tendency to back management in major labor disputes, and enforcement in court is also unlikely to favor workers.

"Enterprises are already in a strong position in labor lawsuits, because of the judicial system," he said. "

She said collective bargaining is difficult because labor unions independent of the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP) are rapidly suppressed, and media are only allowed to report positive news about government achievements.

Another Taiwanese iPhone supplier, Wistron, last week removed the vice-president of its India operations after workers rioted at one of its factories in the country.

"This is a new facility and we recognize that we made mistakes as we expanded. Some of the processes we put in place to manage labour agencies and payments need to be strengthened and upgraded. We are taking immediate action to correct this, including disciplinary action. We are removing the Vice President who oversees our business in India," the company said in a statement cited by the paper.

Wistron employees had rioted over work conditions, in the process destroying property in some areas of the plant and burning some vehicles, the Taiwan Times said, citing Indian media reports.

Reported by Gao Feng for RFA's Mandarin and Cantonese Services. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.

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