China Labour Bulletin (clb.org.hk/en)
Workers at a garment factory in Zhejiang province that produces for Adidas, New Balance and other major international brands went on strike on 14 April over wages. Workers at the Taiwan-owned Quang Viet Enterprise Co., Ltd., stopped production for at least five days, demanding that factory representatives give them a clear explanation of how their wages would be calculated.
The Quang Viet (嘉兴广越) factory in Pinghu, about 90 km southwest of Shanghai, employs over 1,200 workers. International orders have been reduced for the factory’s cotton sports clothing and down coats, and the factory began paying workers less than usual. Workers in an online video preserved in CLB’s Strike Map stated that the monthly salary is typically 5,000 yuan, but in April workers earned less than 4,000 yuan, and some took home as little as 1,500 yuan. According to a job ad from the factory, workers can make 7,000 to 10,000 yuan per month, which includes monthly wages, piece rates, and bonuses.
On Douyin, workers scrawled “Fake!” over the job ad from the Quang Viet factory, calling into question the stated income of 84,000 - 100,000 yuan per year.
This type of incident is not isolated to Pinghu and stems from broader economic changes in China’s manufacturing industry and reduced international demand for manufactured goods from China. However, Pinghu is quite famous for its garment industry, ranking at the top of China’s export areas and producing about 80 percent of down feather garments in China.
Workers protested outside the factory, and the police were called in to mediate. About a dozen police were stationed at the factory, and some workers were reportedly taken away by police. Workers can be seen in online videos speaking with a representative from management who promised a clear calculation of their payments, but only stated that a computer system calculates their pay based on hours worked. Workers responded that such a calculation system should be able to immediately tell them their salaries, and they wanted more transparency.
Production resumed at Quang Viet later the same week, and workers are awaiting more clarity about their wages. Quang Viet workers have counted on the company to provide adequate pay and benefits in line with China’s labour laws. The Quang Viet garment factory had long attracted workers with its good salaries and relatively safe production environment, and it has been rated locally as a “model company” for years. Workers would receive 5-10 days of paid annual leave in addition to paid statutory holidays each year, and overtime wages are 150-300 percent of standard wages.
Employees have also been satisfied with the job and benefits. Liu Yanli, who has worked at Quang Viet for over 15 years, told Zhejiang News in February this year that she was confident in the overtime calculations:
For example, if we work overtime until 8:30 on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday nights, the company will pay us 1.5 times the salary. If we work overtime on Saturday, it will be calculated as 8 hours a day, and the company will pay 200% of the salary. [...]
The enterprise trade union praised the factory management for facilitating the convenient movement of workers by chartering vehicles this Lunar New Year to send workers directly to their hometowns, saving workers considerable time and expense. One worker, Chen Tianhua, from Yunnan province, rode for two days with 11 coworkers to get home […]
But mere weeks after this series of glowing comments from workers, the worker representative, and the enterprise trade union chair, the situation changed and Quang Viet factory workers were paid significantly less than expected and went out on strike. CLB investigated the role of the local union to find out if this sudden about-face could have been smoothed over well in advance by hearing worker voices, and if there is anything more the union can do to prevent economic difficulties being borne by workers.
Union calls the strike a “misunderstanding of the workers” but sought to intervene
On 17 April, China Labour Bulletin called the local Pinghu trade union and spoke with a Mr. Yu of the union’s rights defence department. Mr. Yu told CLB that his office was aware of the Quang Viet strike and had taken steps to learn more. This is already a much better situation than in many cases CLB investigates, where the union is wholly unaware of incidents in their jurisdictions or refuses to even consider intervening. Mr. Yu explained the union’s understanding of the situation:
We have been following up on this matter, which is basically a misunderstanding of the workers, at least some of the workers. The company has explained the situation, and we have been following up these past few days.
CLB asked whether workers or the enterprise union had contacted the Pinghu union, and Mr. Yu said that they had not. This is not unusual. Workers may have little confidence in the union - or not know of its existence - and the enterprise union is often controlled by company management. At Quang Viet, the enterprise union seemed fairly in touch with workers. But Mr. Yu explained that the Pinghu union was following usual protocol about communicating with the enterprise union, which is under its jurisdiction:
“The enterprise trade union is right in the middle of this situation. It is inconvenient for me to ask the enterprise union about this right now. We will follow the relevant work of our party committee and government first, and when the situation improves will deal with the matter.” […]