Strikers Face Jail

25 April 2001

Chinese workers signed on by a construction company from the Chinese city of Xiu Dong to work as building labourers in Israel, have faced the full force of China's legal ambiguity over the right to strike.

Up to 170 Chinese labourers working in Israel for the contractor A. Dori went on strike for a week at the end of March 2001, claiming that the employer had only paid them pocket money allowances of just NIS 50-100 per month (Equivalent to USD12.09 - USD24.18; NIS is the Israeli currency - Ed.) According to reports in the Israel's Ha'aretz newspaper, the workers ended their action when they were informed A. Dori had paid their full wages into bank accounts opened in the workers' names. However, bank records indicate that some money had been withdrawn from the accounts, probably by a representative of the Chinese firm through which the workers were employed.

State Intervention

When Chinese authorities from the workers' home town of Xiudong were informed of the strike, they immediately sent an intimidating letter to the workers, threatening them with up to seven years in jail unless they inform on fellow strikers and apologised for their actions. The Xiu Dong Public Security Bureau, the Procuratorate and a city court signed the letter, dated April 7, and sent it to the workers via a Chinese representative at the Tel Aviv building site where the workers were employed. It said,

"[Y]our behaviour not only goes against your contracts, but also breaches the criminal law on contracts in China... Israeli law is not a factor in this issue".

Although Chinese labour law does not mention the right to strike, the letter said that Chinese penal law states that workers' leaders who cause work to stop and the employer to fall behind in production face between three to seven years in prison. The letter also made clear that "the Chinese government will file indictments against you upon your return to China" and that the government would deduct money from the salaries of the strikers for causing losses to the Israeli contractor.

Vital Weapon for Workers

Apart from being an illustration of China's draconian employment practices and the role of the State in enforcing labour discipline", the incident also shows that China's labour law does not meet its so-called commitment to an international Convenant it has signed and ratified. On February 28th, 2001, the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress ratified
the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR)", Article 8 Clause 1(d) of which guarantees the right to strike. Although China entered a reservation on Article 8 Clause (a), concerning the right to join a trade union of one's choice, it did not reserve on the right to strike. China Labour Bulletin, along with a minority of academics in China and the international trade union movement have longed urged
the Chinese government to acknowledge the right to strike in law. It was removed from the 1982 Constitution on the grounds that China had "resolved class contradictions".

(Israel: 18/04/01; US: Dacankao
19/04/01; ICESCR; HK: Labour Disputes in China and an Inquiry
into the Legal Position of Strikes
, Shi Tanjing, a paper presented
at a conference at Hong Kong City University 18/02/00)


Online: 2001-04-25

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