In less than two weeks’ time, more than one thousand Chinese workers managed to get one extra month’s severance pay at the now closed Citizen factory in Guangzhou, the city that just saw its collective agreement regulation take effect on 1 January this year.

Citizen workers clashed with armed police on 5 February

Citizen workers clashed with armed police on 5 February. Photo Credit: Breaking News on Sina Weibo

 

In less than two weeks’ time, more than one thousand Chinese workers managed to get one extra month’s severance pay at the now closed Citizen factory in Guangzhou, the city that just saw its collective agreement regulation take effect on 1 January this year.

In the morning of 5 February, workers at the Japanese watch-maker were suddenly told that the factory was going to cease operation in the afternoon and all of they had to leave. Workers, many of whom had already worked at Citizen for several years, felt angry and protested against the management decision. They later clashed with the armed police who were sent to the factory to maintain order. One citizen who went to support workers was detained by the police for one day.

According to Chinese media coverage, the factory has notified the local government about this closure one month ago, and got the approval from Guangzhou foreign trade and economic cooperation bureau. But the management decided not to tell workers about this planned closure beforehand for fear that “the notice would influence workers’ emotion and production.”

What the factory did clearly violated the China’s labour contract law, which states that the factory must inform the trade union or all the workers one month in advance for a layoff that involves over 20 employees.

Workers quickly elected their representatives to negotiate with the factory lawyer on the compensation package. What the company initially offered was a severance package provided to workers under the circumstance that the employer informed workers one month in advance. Workers representatives insisted they should deserve one extra month’s worth of salary in the package given they were not informed one month beforehand.

During the negotiation process, workers went to protest in front of the district-level government for help. Labour rights activist and collective bargaining trainer Chen Huihai, labour scholar Wang Jiangsong, and local labour NGOs also provided workers with advice. Citizen factory workers’ fight for their legally deserved severance pay was widely circulated on Sina weibo, and was reported by local and national media.

The factory eventually agreed to pay workers one extra month’s salary. Labour observers believed that aside from workers’ solidarity and the external support and help they received, the one-month-long collective bargaining at another Citizen factory in Shenzhen in 2011 played an important role in influencing Citizen’s management decision this time as well.

Back in 2011, over 1,000 workers at the Shenzhen based Guanxing Precision Machinery Product Factory that makes parts for Citizen managed to get their overtime pay for the past five years through a series of strikes, protests and work-to-rules. Workers’ collective action made Citizen’s Japanese managers realise respect workers’ demand and talk with workers to find a solution can not only benefit workers but also improve workers’ production efficiency and therefore benefit the factory itself.


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Jennifer Zhang

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

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