“We know the trade union represents workers’ interests and protects workers’ legitimate rights. We workers therefore plead the union to urge the company to negotiate with us over our salary, and to proactively assist us in defending our legal rights and interests. Thank you so much!”

The petition letter Far East Gem workers sent to the local trade union

The petition letter Far East Gem workers sent to the local trade union on 18 December.

A group of jewellery factory workers in China’s east coastal city has been on a work stoppage for two weeks. Workers are obviously not happy about their dramatic pay cut after factory moved part of its production to Vietnam.

Workers told USi that they want to use this industrial action to pressure Far East Gems, the Korean owned factory in Qingdao, to talk with them.

These 67 workers, many of whom have been working for Far East Gem for over ten years, saw their monthly salary go down significantly from over 4,000 yuan (or 413 pounds) to 1,000 yuan today. They demanded the factory to negotiate with them.

One obstacle they faced is that out of the 300 workers Far East Gem employed, only 67 of them earn salary on piece-per-piece basis, which means they bear the brunt of shrinking orders after factory relocation. They couldn’t gain the support from other workers, who they said were too young to risk being reprimanded by the management, while the striking workers are over 35-year-old on average.

On 18 December, workers sent a letter to the local labour bureau, stating the fact that they can barely support themselves with the current income, and asked the labour bureau to persuade the company to negotiate with workers.

“We are concerned that in such circumstances, is the company trying to transfer its assets and force us to resign? If it were true, what would happen to workers once the company finishes transferring all the assets? What if workers take radical actions?”

The labour bureau, probably in fear of a looming social unrest, did call the company manager surnamed Zhou and asked him to respond to workers’ demand, but Zhou simply replied to workers by saying that he’s studying a new plan.

The factory’s new plan was surprising indeed. On 20 December, Far East Gems installed six new surveillance cameras on the workshop ceiling in order to monitor the striking workers more closely, and two days later, it posted an announcement, asking the workers to complete two orders of 4,000 jewellery pieces before 30 December.

Workers said they would start working on these orders only when the factory proved its good will in negotiation.

“In order to complete these orders and protect the company’s interest, we hope the company can respond to our demand,” workers said in a written letter.

In the meantime, workers also tried to seek help from the district-level trade union, and sent it a petition letter on 18 December. In the letter workers wrote,

“We know the trade union represents workers’ interests and protects workers’ legitimate rights. We workers therefore plead the union to urge the company to negotiate with us over our salary, and to proactively assist us in defending our legal rights and interests. Thank you so much!”

The initial answer they got is the union director was not in town. “A union official told us the director will investigate our matter as soon as he gets back. So what we can do is just waiting here anxiously.”

Workers told USi that they heard their factory has a trade union, which “cannot be trusted”.

On 25 December, workers got the chance to talk with the management, thanks to the help from the labour bureau. The factory management admitted that part of the factory orders were sent to the new factory in Vietnam, given the fact that the labour cost here  (in Qingdao) is expensive.

The factory can not easily terminate these workers’ employment contracts either, because these workers have been on non-fixed term contract after having worked here for over ten years, which, according to the Chinese labour law, only allows the factory to dismiss workers in certain circumstances, such as severe breach of factory regulations.

But workers complained that with such low income, what the factory is actually doing is to force them to leave.

More ironically, on 26 December, when the district-level trade union officials finally came to the factory to ‘investigate’, they only sat at the manager’s office for a while and then left. Workers questioned on weibo “Why you don’t talk to us? At least you should let us know what’s going on after your meeting with the managers.”

Workers said they have no plans of what to do next. But they are in touch with several local labour NGOs for strategies. Like many other workers’ rights groups, Far East Gem workers maintained their own weibo account and posted their updates almost on a daily basis.

USi will continue to follow up with this story.


This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial License.
Author avatar

Jennifer Zhang

Jennifer Zhang is USi’s China coordinator based in Hong Kong.

Read All Articles