China has ordered owners of a huge Taiwan-backed shoe factory to address striking workers’ grievances about unpaid social security, an official said yesterday.
Thousands of employees at a factory owned by Yue Yuen Industrial (Holdings) Ltd (裕元工業), which calls itself the world’s largest branded footwear maker, in Dongguan City have been on strike since Monday last week, although some have returned to work, according to a labor rights group.
The Chinese Communist Party fears an independent labor movement could threaten its grip on power, so it only allows one government-linked trade union.
However, activists say government officials have been more sympathetic to individual grievances against factories, especially those funded by foreign companies or investors from Hong Kong or Taiwan. Yue Yuen is a company owned by a Taiwanese family.
A Chinese Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security official said the government was aware of the Yue Yuen issue and Dongguan officials had ordered the company to rectify the situation.
“According to our preliminary investigation, the Dongguan Yue Yuen shoe factory really has the problem of not strictly submitting social security payments,” ministry spokesman Li Zhong (李忠) told a news conference in Beijing, according to a transcript posted online.
“The Dongguan City social security bureau... has ordered the enterprise to carry out rectification in accordance with the law by April 25,” he said, adding the ministry would seek to protect the legal rights of workers.
Meanwhile, a Chinese labor activist has been freed after being detained for more than two days by security agents whom he says tried to convince him not to make contact with workers involved in the Yue Yuen labor strike.
Zhang Zhiru’s (張治儒) brief detention underscores nervousness among officials about the strike. A colleague of Zhang’s at the Shenzhen Chunfeng Labor Dispute Service Center, which he runs, was detained separately on Tuesday and has not been released, Zhang said by telephone yesterday.
Labor activists say the strike is one of China’s biggest since market reforms started in the late 1970s. It is already starting to have ripple effects on businesses.
Zhang had been working with other activists and lawyers to help workers at Yue Yuen organize and press their demands regarding social insurance payments. He visited the Dongguan site on Monday after an attempt last week was thwarted by security agents.
Speaking from the southern city of Shenzhen, next to Dongguan, Zhang said domestic security agents summoned him to a meeting on Tuesday and asked him to promise he would not make contact with the workers.
He refused and was taken to what the agents said was a “vacation area” in the suburbs of nearby Guangzhou, where they confiscated his mobile phone, confined him to a room and barred him from making outside contact, he said.
They tried to convince him to write a statement that he was “safe and on a trip for fun with friends,” but he refused. He was allowed a telephone call to his wife on Wednesday afternoon.
Late on Thursday morning, he was driven back to Shenzhen, where he lives, and released. Zhang said he was again told not to make contact with the striking workers.
“They said this would be going against the work of the government,” which he was told was trying to facilitate an arrangement to end the strike.