New York Times: Workers Strike at Shoe Factory Over Benefits Dispute

27 June 2019

China Labour Bulletin is quoted in the following article. Copyright remains with the original publisher.


APRIL 17, 2014,

Tens of thousands of workers at one of the world’s largest shoe manufacturers are continuing a strike in the southern Chinese city of Dongguan in a dispute over benefits.

Employees of Yue Yuen Industrial accuse the company of failing to match monthly contributions for social insurance and housing benefits workers say they were promised. The company, which makes shoes for major sportswear companies including Adidas, Nike, Converse and New Balance, had sales of $7.58 billion in 2013. In 2012, it said it had more than 400,000 employees in China, Vietnam and Indonesia. About 60,000 work in its factories in Dongguan.

As many as 40,000 workers in Dongguan have been on strike since Monday, said one worker reached by phone. “They haven’t been paying for us. They’re ripping us off,” the worker said. She declined to provide her name, citing concerns about losing her job.

The worker, who has been employed with the company in Dongguan for more than a year, said she takes in about 1,300 renminbi, or $210, a month, and has paid 100 renminbi a month for social insurance, an amount she had believed the company was matching.

Some workers had briefly gone on strike in early April. They resumed the strike on Monday after no apparent progress was made in discussions with the company.

Yue Yuen did not reply to requests for comment. Last week a company spokesman told Reuters that the dispute was due to a “misunderstanding” over benefits.

“The misunderstanding has to be clarified by the government, in particular any difference between local and migrant workers when they claim their benefits,” the spokesman said.

The company said on Thursday that in response to the strike it would adjust benefit payments for employees at its Gaobu factory in Dongguan “in accordance with the relevant local government policies,” according to an announcement filed with the Hong Kong stock exchange.

It was unclear whether the company announcement, which did not offer details of the benefit adjustments, would bring an immediate end to the employee action. The worker said she and her colleagues were still on strike Thursday morning.

China Labor Watch, a New York-based organization, said that disputes over social insurance benefits were a common problem at Chinese factories. Its investigations at 400 factories over the past decade found that none had paid for all legally mandated insurance items, according to a statement.

China Labor Watch also posted a video that showed hundreds of people marching down a city street, some holding a banner that said, “Return Our Social Insurance, Return My Housing Fund.” The workers in the video are met by the police, and the two sides clash in the street.

The strike at Yue Yuen is one of the largest in recent memory in the Pearl River Delta manufacturing belt in Guangdong Province. In the past two months, there have been worker actions at several smaller factories as well, according to the Hong Kong-based China Labour Bulletin, a nongovernmental organization. It said the apparent surge in strikes following the end of the Lunar New Year holiday may be due to increased reporting on social media, “but there does seem to be a pronounced increase in activism on the ground.”

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