[Documents menu] Documents menu

Date: Sat, 17 Jul 1999 13:38:17 -0500 (CDT)
From: rich@pencil.math.missouri.edu (Rich Winkel)
Organization: PACH
Subject: China: Mixed Messages on Labor Rights
Article: 70147
To: undisclosed-recipients:;
Message-ID: <bulk.21624.19990719061537@chumbly.math.missouri.edu>

/** labr.global: 227.0 **/
** Topic: China calls for workers' rights, jails labour activists for subversi **
** Written 6:46 AM Jul 7, 1999 by labornews in cdp:labr.global **

Mixed Messages on Labor Rights

AFP, 6 July 1999

BEIJING, July 6 (AFP) - China, faced with mounting social unrest, is stepping up attempts to protect workers' rights, while at the same time jailing three unofficial labour activists for subversion.

While the leadership introduced a labour law in 1994 aimed at protecting workers' rights and laying down a framework for the resolution of disputes, workers across China are still frequently exploited and exposed to death and injury.

Wei Jianxing, president of the officially sanctioned All China Federation of Trade Unions, called Monday for the law to be fully and properly implemented, the official People's Daily reported.

The Labour Law was the first of its kind in China aimed at protecting the legal rights of labourers, China's top union leader Wei Jianxing told a forum marking the law's fifth anniversary.

The paper said China would also set up a tri-party mechanism of government, enterprises, and trade unions to deal with important labour issues in a coordinated way.

But even as Wei made his speech, a court in the northern province of Gansu was sentencing a labour activist to 10 years' imprisonment for subverting state power, a Hong Kong-based human rights group said.

Yue Tianxing was jailed by the Tianshui City Intermediate People's Court Monday after he and two others set up an unofficial organisation aimed at protecting laid-off workers, the Information Centre for Human Rights and Democratic Movement in China said in a statement.

Independent trade unions are banned in China.

Guo Xinmin and Wang Fengshan were also sentenced to two years each, for helping Yue run the China Labour Monitor, it said.

All three were members of the outlawed opposition China Democracy Party (CDP).

Workers of course have the desire to have independent labour unions, but those who actually dare to try and set them up are few, Han Dongfang, a Chinese labour activist based in Hong Kong, told AFP.

When they see cases like this, it scares them off, according to Han, who set up communist China's only independent labour union in Tiananmen Square in the spring of 1989.

The union was broken up following the repression of pro-democracy demonstrations on June 4, 1989, while Han and other union leaders were jailed or exiled.

Another activist, He Chaohui, was tried last week by a court in central Hunan province on charges of providing information on workers' protests to overseas organizations.

A former worker at the Chenzhou Railway Bureau, He was accused of organizing about 10 protest strikes in 1997-98 and reporting the demonstrations to overseas organizations.

No verdict has yet been given in the case, but similar charges levelled against worker Zhang Shanguang last December resulted in a 10 year prison sentence for illegally providing intelligence.

Zhang, 45, was formally arrested after trying to set up an organisation to defend the rights of laid-off workers, and reporting rural protests to a US radio station.

The government doesn't get really upset if people feel unsatisfied, if there are various protests or an international reaction—what they really fear is organization, Han said.

If you start to organize its easy to build membership, and that scares the Communist Party because they don't have a lot of confidence right now.

Chinese legal experts are being asked to speed up the drafting of laws covering labour and social security, including the Basic Pension Insurance Regulation and the Labour Contract Law as the leadership gets increasingly nervous as millions of state employees lose their jobs, and with them their access to health care, education and social services.

An estimated 10 to 20 million workers will lose their jobs this year, as the government struggles to throw off the burden of the socialist-style welfare system and encourages people to seek new work in the fledgling private sector.

In some non-state enterprises, employers do not sign labour contracts with workers, prevent the establishment of trade unions, delay or reduce the pay and neglect the labour safety measures, unionist Wei Jianxing said.

The leadership maintains the official All China Federation of Trade Unions adequately protects the rights of the working class under the leadership of the Communist Party.

But according to Han, there were more than 215,000 labour-related protests in China last year—involving some 3.55 million workers—as a result of radical state sector reforms.