Wednesday, 30 April 2014

Celebration of International Labor Day (May 1st) and protests of Chinese workers outlines the need to protect and ensure basic labour rights.

In current days, it is not at all anachronistic to celebrate the International Labour Day in a period where while financial institutions are dictating the political agenda in the European Union and in all western economies by diminishing or depriving the workers of primary rights achieved after years of fight in the name of competitiveness and economic stability, we can see protesters in developing countries fight to achieve basic labour rights.

The case of the thousands of workers from Yue Yuen footwear manufacturer demonstrating in the streets of  Dongguan city, China (shown on the map below) is emblematic. In this case workers are protesting for better work conditions and for basic healthcare and pension contributions.

According to Chinese law, employers are obliged to make monthly payments into workers' social security accounts, to help provide medical insurance and a pension,  but manufacturers often shirk their responsibility. Current local and international economic conditions empowered local workers by turning bargaining power in their favour and, in particular, older factory personnel nearing to retirement, is very active in leading the protest in Dongguan.
The existence in China of pro workers legislation is not per se sufficient to ensure and protect the enjoyment of rights, if authorities do not properly enforce the law . On the contrary Chinese authorities are complicating the situation in Dongguan.

"Police have arrested workers in the workshops for not working, more than 60 were detained," said one worker who did not want to be named for fear of reprisals. "At the moment the factory is controlled by police." The Communist Party fears an independent labour movement could threaten its grip on power, so it only allows one government-linked trade union. (Agence-France Press AFP, April 28.

The situation is constantly monitored by China Labour Bulletin, A non-governmental organization founded in Hong Kong in 1994, which grown from a small monitoring and research group into a proactive outreach organization that seeks to defend and promote the rights of workers in China. Workers'demonstrations reached a peak in March 2014 and the one in Dongguan was one of the biggest in recent years (China Labour Bulletin, strike map).

Maybe, as in the near future, we could see transnational companies further de-localizing their productions moving from South East Asia to Africa in search for the most poor economies where to built up new plants and exploit the local workers, the protection and the respect for primary basic labour rights should be a central focus of national policies and also a core objective for development cooperation strategies.

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