China : Urgent appeal for support for Dongguan textile workers

Massive anger as Hong Kong-owned company slashes 4,000 jobs

Chinaworker.info has been contacted by supporters of workers at a large textile factory in southern China to spread news and generate solidarity messages for a developing struggle for jobs. On Friday 29 February, the Fuan Textile Printing and Dyeing Co., Ltd., in the southern industrial city of Dongguan, Guangdong province, announced sudden layoffs of nearly 4,000 employees, more than two-thirds of the workforce. There has been an increase in factory closures and redundancies in the Pearl River Delta, where Dongguan is situated, as a result of the rise of the yuan against the dollar, stricter enforcement of pollution, fuel efficiency and other controls, and the economic slowdown in the United States. But workers can never accept such arguments as a justification for layoffs or reductions in wages and compensation. If the bosses suddenly plead poverty – while driving to their golf courses in luxury cars – workers must demand to inspect the company books to see where the money has gone!

The staff reductions at Fuan Textile are being imposed in complete disregard for the statutory consultation process with the official, regime-controlled trade unions. This is a grave violation of China’s new labour contract law that came into effect on 1 January this year. The company are also refusing to meet their legal requirements in respect of minimum compensation for retrenched workers, based on years of service.

Chinaworker.info has warned that bosses across China will try to ignore or circumvent the new labour contract law. The law, according to the Chinese government, is supposed to provide a basic level of protection for workers and prevent arbitrary sackings and layoffs of this type. But the law’s main weakness (there are many) is that it does not lift the ban on independent and democratically-run trade unions, which represent the only way to fundamentally improve China’s deplorable working conditions. The struggle in Dongguan could however be a major test of the new law, either by exposing it as a paper tiger or, if significant pressure including international pressure is generated, by forcing the nominally ’communist’ authorities to stage a partial defence of their own law!

Anger at the job cuts announcement led to several hundred, perhaps as many as 2,000 workers, taking part in an unauthorised demonstration on Friday and marching to the offices of the local government in Changan Town, the administrative area where the factory is based. As is common practise in China, the local government in Changan Town owns a minority stake in Fuan Textile, through the Dongguan Changan Enterprise General Co. Such arrangements often involve special treatment for the company in question, allowing it to circumvent factory laws and escape penalties.

On the morning of 1 March, according to the Hong Kong media outlet Wen Wei Po, the workers continued their protest action and this led to small-scale clashes with the police and paramilitary police, resulting in some injuries and the arrest of several workers.

Notorious law-breaking company

The Fuan Textile plant is majority owned by Hong Kong-based Fountain Set (Holdings) Limited, which is listed on the Stock Exchange of Hong Kong. Fountain Set notched up worldwide sales worth HK$7.02 billion (US$900 million) in the financial year 2007. The company employs a total of 23,000 people with production facilities also in Sri Lanka and Indonesia, although mainly in China. The Dongguan subsidiary, Fuan Textile, was the second-largest Chinese exporter of fabrics in 2004, according to the International Herald Tribune [2 August 200508]. The factory is described as huge even by the standards of Dongguan, and even boasts the biggest assembly of circular knitting machines in the world.

The company made headlines in 2006 for something far more sinister. It was fined 11.5 million yuan ($1.65 million) for dumping pollution into the local river. According to the South China Morning Post (16 June 2006) the ”factory is alleged to have laid a secret pipe to the river and discharged more than 20,000 tonnes a day, nearly equivalent to its total waste water treatment plant’s capacity. Fountain Sets has denied the existence of the pipe.”

Yet the company’s website (www.fshl.com) insists they are ’responsible corporate citizens’ and works to foster ’community awareness and environmental protection; and extend the spirit and sincere in caring and paying attention to the society and people in need.’ The emptiness of these PR slogans is fully exposed by the callous treatment of the Dongguan workforce over recent days.

Letters of protest needed – urgently

On behalf of the Fuan Textile workers, chinaworker.info is appealing for urgent letters of protest to be sent to Fountain Set. The company has offices in seven countries outside China, including in London and New York (see their website – www.fshl.com – for details).

Workers in China toil under inhuman conditions for miserable wages. A brutal one-party dictatorship which bans unions, strikes and all forms of independent protest, imposes special problems upon workers attempting to fight back against attacks from employers, who, to make matters even worse, are in bed with the government through joint-ownership arrangements as in the case of Fuan Textile. Without a union (one cannot count the puppet official union, ACFTU, whose own leaders describe it as ”virtually helpless”), the workforce at Fuan Textile may not achieve a basic degree of unity between those whose jobs are threatened and those who – for now – have escaped the axe. There are reports that some workers, understandably, are afraid to speak out. Given massive police intimidation and a government that can pull the plugs on media coverage – even blacking out internet and mobile phone messaging if it chooses to – labour disputes usually tend to be of short duration in China, a matter of days. Therefore, if international groups and especially trade unionists want to support this important struggle – please act quickly! Messages of international support can be a huge boost to the morale of these workers and perhaps, with the Olympics just five months away, pressurise the Chinese regime into checking its worst repressive practises.

The following is a draft protest letter that can be faxed or emailed to the company:

To: Chung Fong Ha, Managing Director of Fountain Set (Holdings) Ltd.

Dear Sir,

We protest at the scandalous action of the Hong Kong-based Fountain Set company and its subsidiary, Fuan Textile Printing and Dyeing Co., Ltd., in imposing drastic job losses on its workforce in Changan Town, Dongguan. We note that the company is acting in complete violation of China’s labour contract law, which stipulates that a consultation process is mandatory and enforces certain minimum levels of compensation. We note this is not the first time your company has broken the law, as it also did in 2006 when it received a hefty fine for pollution crimes. We fully support the workforce in their struggle for justice and to keep their jobs. We demand the immediate release of arrested workers, and strongly protest against the use of the police to silence what are justified demonstrations of workers’ grievances. We support the right of workers in China to form their own, independent and fully democratic trade unions. We will follow very closely the outcome of this dispute and the actions of both the company and the local offices [Dongguan Changan Town] of the Chinese government in this Olympic year.

Fax number: +852 2418 1139

sales@fshl.com

Telephone +852-24-851881

Please send copies of all letters and messages of support to chinaworker.info: cwi.china@gmail.com

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