SCMP: Chinese labour activists 'increasingly targets of violent attacks, intimidation'

30 April 2015

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

Mimi Lau in Guangzhou

30 April 2015

Labour activists in China say they are increasingly the target of violent attacks and the intimidation is likely to get worse as the country’s economy slows and they get involved in more industrial disputes to fight for workers rights.

There have been at least five incidents of labour activists being assaulted or facing harassment this month alone, they say.

As the country prepares to mark the Labour Day holiday this weekend, activists said they were steeling themselves for a tough year ahead.

“May 1 is the day when workers celebrate the rights they have fought for, but our work is increasingly challenging,” said Zeng Feiyang, the director of the Guangdong Panyu Migrant Worker Centre in Guangzhou.

“The nature of the assaults and oppression has got more severe and the violence is of a kind we’ve never experienced before in terms of its intensity and frequency. I think I might be locked up sooner or later within the year," he said.

One of the assaults this month involved the former worker turned collective bargaining adviser Peng Jiayong.

He was beaten by a group of masked men in Guangzhou.

Peng visited women workers on strike at the Zhongshan Cuiheng bag factory, a Japanese-owned plant, on April 2.

He was advising on low pay and unsettled social insurance payments, but was taken away by the police for an eight-hour interrogation.

Peng was released at about midnight, but was immediately rushed into a vehicle by a group of masked men as soon as he stepped out of the station.

Peng said he was repeatedly beaten in the vehicle and later abandoned in the countryside without his shoes.

He had to walk barefoot for over 12km before he got a lift and went to hospital for treatment.

Chen Huihai, the head of the Haige Workers Services Centre, who tried to help Peng report the assault, had his vehicle smashed with bricks by a masked man on a motorcycle as it was parked outside a police station.

“Local police failed to investigate, apprehend the assailants and were unable able to protect law-binding citizens,” said Professor Wang Jiangsong at the China Institute of Industrial Relations..

As China’s economic growth slows, tens of thousands of migrant workers in Guangdong province have staged industrial actions over the past two months demanding employers settle unpaid social insurance payments before closing down or relocating to more remote region away from the Pearl River Delta.

No official strike figures are available, but the Hong Kong-based workers rights group China Labour Bulletin estimates there were 650 industrial actions, including strikes and protests, in the first quarter of this year across the country. That compares to 202 disputes in the same period of 2014, the group said.

Rights activist Zeng, who was assaulted by four men who stormed into his office last December, said he faced further harassment this month.

He and NGO employee Meng Han were taken to a police station for interrogation on April 13 over their involvement with workers holding a strike at the Lide Shoe Factory in Guangzhou over unsettled social insurance payments.

Meng was removed from a meeting with Lide worker representatives six days later and locked up briefly by the police.

Meng said that on April 21 he was subject to harassment with a person knocking on his door every ten minutes after 7pm.

His water and power were cut off the next day and his landlord told him he was terminating his rental contract that was due to expire next January.

“The nature of the harassment has got more severe,” said Meng.

“What’s even more awful is that the police and national security officials didn’t even try to hide their intentions this time by directly ordering my landlord to terminate my rental contract.”

Meng said he was forced to remain inside his apartment for two days as seven policemen watched outside and he could not leave until Lide workers representatives came to his aid.

“I will fight on because the law has granted me my rights,” he said. “There is no force that can stop my desire to serve the workers.”

Zeng said he has been forced to highlight activists need to ensure their own personal safety because of the increased attacks.

“We are telling workers and activists to avoid travelling at night alone and to be extra careful all the time,” he said.

Labour NGOs in China provide a service upholding workers rights that the government affiliated All-China Federation of Trade Unions has failed to provide, according to Professor Wang.

But this has also placed activists and worker representatives at the sharp end as the stability obsessed-authorities rein in dissent amid a slowing economy and the desire to retain foreign investment, said Wang.

The state-run news agency Xinhua reported ahead of the May Day holiday that President Xi Jinping has pledged to lift workers pay, create more jobs and improve workers conditions.

“In reality, the party lacks concrete measures to lift workers pay other than legislating for the legal minimum wage, which leaves workers with no choice but to fight for their rights through collective action,” said Wang.

“The illegal triad-style harassment imposed on workers and activists is a slap in the face to Xi, who has vowed to protect workers,” he said.


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