Chinese Police Detain 'Dozens' in Shoe Factory Dispute

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Yue Yuen Industrial workers on strike in an undated photo.
Photo courtesy of Jasmine Revolution Network

Authorities in the southern Chinese province of Guangdong are holding dozens of workers after renewed protests amid a bitter labor dispute at the world's largest maker of sports footwear, official media and workers said on Friday.

Around 2,000 workers stormed out of the main factory in Guangdong's Dongguan city on Friday, marching along a major road before police rushed to the front of the parade and took away dozens of people, according to the state-run Xinhua news agency and protesters.

More than 40,000 employees of a factory complex owned by Taiwan-invested Yue Yuen Industrial (Holdings) have been striking intermittently since April 5 over social security payments required under Chinese law, and other demands.

"They are the ones breaking the law, not us," a worker surnamed Guo said after Friday's protest. "We have been doing this for so long, and they won't make our social security contributions."

He said the protest had been sparked by an offer by management at Yue Yuen, which produces athletic shoes for companies that include Adidas and Nike, to begin making full social security contributions on May 1.

"They wanted to waive all the backdated payments with one stroke of the pen," Guo said. "We have been cheated out of this all along...How many decades does a person have?"

Guo said workers were ready to keep striking until their demands were met, and that anger against government attempts to suppress the strike is running high.

"Everyone at Yue Yuen is out on strike now, and we are behaving very rationally," he said.

"We are defending our rights in a reasonable, appropriate and legal manner, and yet the powers that be still send people to arrest us and suppress us," Guo said.

Batons and dogs used

A striking worker surnamed Lei told RFA on Thursday that police were repeatedly using batons and dogs against striking protesters.

"But we are going to take this strike all the way, until our demands are met," he said, adding that workers are also calling for a 30 percent pay increase on top of the key demand that mandatory social security and housing fund payments be made in full.

"On average, the striking workers make around 2,500 yuan (U.S. $400) a month or thereabouts," Lei said.

An official who answered the phone at the government propaganda bureau in Gaobu township, where the Yue Yuen factory is located, said the government was taking an active role in the dispute.

"The government has become involved, and is mediating the dispute now," the official said in an interview on Thursday.

"Our leaders have been out of the office dealing with this matter in recent days, so I only have a rough idea of what is happening."

"I've been left in the office, so I don't know the details," the official said.


Zhang Zhiru, head of the Shenzhen Chunfeng Labour Justice Service Department, a rights organization in close contact with the Yue Yuen labor force, said workers had repeatedly complained that the company has underpaid mandatory social security fund contributions.

"The total monthly social security bill for the tens of thousands of workers at the Yue Yuen plant in Gaobu, Dongguan, should come to 33 million yuan (U.S. $5.3 million) or more," Zhang told RFA. "But actually, they've only been paying out U.S. $2.8 million or more."

"That's a deficit of U.S. $30 million, which adds up to...more than 300 million yuan a year."

Zhang said many enterprises were able to secure "favorable" terms from local government officials when they first signed investment deals.

"They might extend certain favors in terms of policy for companies that decide to invest," he said.

"The local government hasn't the power to affect the taxes [paid by corporations], but it can control what other fees they have to pay, like social security."

The Guangdong provincial branch of the state-run All-China Federation of Trade Unions (ACFTU) called on Yue Yuen workers to act rationally, but said it would take a stand to protect workers' rights, the official Xinhua news agency reported on Friday.

ACFTU officials in Dongguan had been sent to Yue Yuen to mediate, it said.

Poor track record

But independent labor groups and workers said ACFTU has a poor track record when it comes to negotiating on behalf of workers.

"The workers should have their own union, because the [state-run] union doesn't act on behalf of workers," Yue Yuen worker Lei said. "They should try to get more wages for workers."

Yue Yuen's Dongguan plant is one of the world's largest shoe manufacturing facilities, produces shoes for foreign brands including Nike, Adidas, Puma and New Balance, and is partly owned by Taiwanese investors, according to its website.

The strike comes ahead of a major production run that would supply shoes for the summer season in Europe and the United States.

The Hong Kong-based China Labour Bulletin recorded 202 labor disputes in the country during the first quarter of 2014, mostly in the manufacturing sector, a year-on-year increase of more than 30 percent as China's economic growth slows.

Reported by Yang Fan and Wen Jian for RFA's Mandarin Service, and by Wen Yuqing for the Cantonese Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.


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