Wei Jingsheng Foundation News and Article Release Issue: A58-W17
Release Date: April 5, 2004
Topic: Ciping Huang Testify in US Senate about Chinese Workers Miserable Condition
Original Language Version: English (Chinese version at the end)
Ciping Huang Testify in US Senate about Chinese Workers Miserable Condition
On March 29, 2004, Ciping Huang, on behalf of the Wei Jingsheng Foundation, was invited to give testimony in the US Senate on behalf of the Chinese workers' interest. In the question and answer session, she also brought out the detail accounts such as factories to exam female workers' monthly cycles to "ensure productivity" and use of prisoner labor that many got exported, as well as the Chinese government suppress the news of workers' uprises and punish the journalists who report these. Due to time restraint, she was not able to straight further of the global environmental pollution caused by China and risk of weapon build up's and how harmful it would be to the business world when the long suppression resulted into large scale unrest even revolution.
The other two testified at the hearing are: Dr. Mark Barenberg, the Columbia University Professor who drafted the 301 Petition on behalf of AFL-CIO and had his own account of personal experiences and witnessed on Chinese workers' condition while teaching at Beijing University, and Mr. Nicholas Lardy, a senior fellow of Institute for International Economics, who agreed that the Chinese workers' condition is a problem and need to be upgraded, yet oppose the other two witnesses from the point of favoring business and economy.
The hearing lasted for 2 hours. Senator Byron Dorgan chaired the hearing, while the US Representative George Miller actively involved with the session. After the hearing, Ciping Huang was interviewed by several news media, including Radio Free Asia and Voice of America, as well as Press Associates Union News Service, a US publication about the workers and unions.
The following is Ciping Huang's testimony.
Respectful members of the Congress:
My name is Ciping Huang. I am the executive director of Wei Jingsheng Foundation, a non-profit organization that emphasizes democratic elements for China, including workers' rights. And I am also the Secretary General of Overseas Chinese Democracy Coalition, a world wide Chinese human rights and democracy organization. Thank you for giving me this chance to talk about Chinese workers' miserable condition, in supporting the section 301 petitions filed by AFL-CIO.
I have confidence that our Chinese workers, including the migrant peasant workers, back in my homeland, will appreciate this opportunity for the outside world to know their suffering, and thus might be a chance for some improvement. As the organization that have promoting Chinese workers' rights for years, have urging the world for the welfare of the Chinese workers, as well treating support and educate our follow Chinese workers in our homeland as our duty, I thank you for let me to speak on their behalf.
Although this testimony could be a little lengthy, it is only a tip of the iceberg for the mounting problem of the Chinese workers, which we have documented some in our website at: www.chinalaborunion.org where has some of the information we have collected on labor and human rights problems in China (mostly from China so they are only in Chinese language).
As a past worker himself, Mr. Wei Jingsheng fights endlessly for Chinese workers' rights and it is one of the prime goal of the Wei Jingsheng Foundation - to defend Chinese workers' rights and to speak up for them, to provide advices and possible legal helps for the Chinese workers the best ways in rightfully protect themselves and their own rights.
To start with, I want to share with you the turning point of my personal interest on workers' rights. It was back in the April of 1998 when I was visiting my parents in Hefei, the capital of Anhui province, where the local state own enterprises were experiencing massive layoffs. What I learnt was what often happened, the government was not responsive at all to the rightful request until the protest got out of control. Then in an effort to dismiss the mass, the government would agree with the conditions requested, but only arrest the leaders later on and not cashed out their promised. At the age of 30's, my former classmates were already worried to be laid-off because they were "too old" - 35 was a rip age for the females to be forced into "retirement" without any safety net.
In representing the Chinese workers' interest and as a human rights defender myself, the core question I have for these who arguing in favor of the business' community's profit is: what is your opinion and approaches if you know that your profit is based on the abuses of the human rights of many, and does moral has a value?
1. Current Status of China's Workers
There are more than 750 million workers in China. China's 2002 census showed approximately 160 million in manufacturing and mining, nearly 12 times the manufacturing workforce in the United States.
China has approximately 780 million peasants. Between 180 and 350 million are estimated to be "excessive" or in "dire poverty" and available for urban employment. Joining the current of more than 100 millions, ten to twenty million will enter the nonagricultural workforce each year.
The workers of China are grossly underpaid and lack of basic protections, such as pension and health insurance. China's export workers earn pitifully low wage - as little as 15 to 30 cents per hour - and receive brutal treatment. Some had to work up to 12-16 hours a day, 7 days a week. They do not enjoy many safe nets taken for granted by the US workers, such as Social Security, pension fund, Medicare and Medicaid. In fact, many workers of Chinese state-owned enterprises were laid off when they were still in their prime ages, such as late 40's and early 50's (for women, it starts at age of 35), and dumped into an already overly crowded and poorly protected society.
Even the workers who stay on their jobs are earning meager wages that may be withheld or unpaid altogether. The factories are sweltering, dusty, and damp. Workers are fully exposed to chemical toxins and hazardous machines, and suffer sickness, disfiguration, and death at the highest rates in world history. China's unremitting repression of labor rights robs China's workers of wages, health, and dignity.
China's factory workers have not received much wage advantage, even though the productivity has risen dramatically. Even though, their wages are often suppressed by nonsense penalties and excuses, or simply not paid at owners/managers' will with or without excuses. There is no competitive labor market, let alone rights of unionization, to ensure that workers' earnings grow with their productivity.
With various mechanisms for artificially suppressing workers' bargaining power, Chinese factory workers live under conditions that neutral researchers (and Chinese officials themselves) describe as "bestial," "horrific," and "abominable." Their rights of freedom, rights of association and unionization, have all taken away by the suppressive government. Yet, what had happened to them often do not even fit China's own labor law. Nevertheless, the Chinese government turns a blind eye on it, systematically and purposefully.
2. Laid-off Workers
In the year of 2003, there were still over 30 million laid-off workers in the cities all over China, affecting direct family members of over 100 million. Many of the workers were laid off because of their factories were sold to private owners, who usually have business interests with officials in charge of the selling-out. Since the new owners often have "official background", they usually took over the factories for much less than the real value, laid off older workers and gave very little to compensate those being laid-off.
In July 2003, a factory in Kaifeng, Henan was sold to private owners. The true value of the factory was estimated to be at least 10 million Yuan. It was sold for 950 thousand Yuan. Worse yet, the new owner paid only 150 thousand Yuan and used the 800 thousand Yuan that should have been paid to compensate laid-off workers as the purchasing payment.
In November 2003, over 7,000 workers from an auto part manufacture plant in XiangYang, Hubei went to the streets to demonstrate against a private buyout of their plant. The workers protested that many of them would be laid off with little compensation and the others' salary and benefit would be cut significantly after the takeover.
The life of laid-off workers is very hard. Many of them could not afford basic food and clothing. On Oct. 1, 2003, the Chinese National Day, a laid-off worker from Hubei, Mr. Yang, PeiQuan, poured gasoline on himself and light it up in Beijing's Tiananmen Square. He had tried everyway to live by asking help from all levels of government agencies, but he finally lost any hope and chose suicide as a form of protest.
3. The Life of Migrant Workers
China further reduces labor costs by a system of government-engineered labor exploitation on a scale that is unmatched in the present global economy, even though the Chinese economy has been painted with a glorified picture especially for its cheap prices of the goods. China's comprehensive regimentation of its young migrant factory workers uses internal pass controls that prevent workers from moving their permanent residence from impoverished villages to factory towns and cities and turn ordinary workers into highly exploitable outcasts in their own country.
There are over 100 million migrant workers in nowadays Chinese cities. These migrant workers are almost all from poor places in the countryside and thus they are also called "peasant workers". They do the hardest and dirtiest jobs in the cities, yet treated as second-class citizen and live at the lowest level of the metropolitan community.
Migrant workers usually work under unsafe or even toxic environment, with much less and even no welfare at all. According to the official statistics in 2003, there were 25 million migrant workers working without any protection at places where toxic air and/or excessive dust were constantly present. Each year, there were more than 10 thousand accidents of being poisoned at work associated with countless injury and death. In the summer of 2003, over 30 migrant workers from the city of ShaoXing, Zhejiang were dead because of long-hours outdoor working under extremely hot weather.
Migrant workers usually work long hours with very low pay. Yet their pay at is often delayed or even unpaid for many months or even years. A migrant worker at a restaurant in Baotou, a big city of Inner Mongolia, worked over 12 hours everyday and was paid only 150 Yuan per month. An official report revealed that, the amount of unpaid salary to migrant workers was as much as 10 billion Yuan in the entire country as of 2003, which is very significant for many who came from poor countryside where annually house income was less than 2000 Yuan.
Suffering from unpaid wage, unfair treatment and extreme poverty, tragedies happened often when asking for unpaid salary but being refused. Among these, Mr. Li, ZiHao from Henan tried to suicide by criminating himself in January 2004; Mr. Hu, WeiGuo from Hubei jumped off from a high building in Beijing one day after the New Year of 2004; and Mr. Xu, DianPin from Heilongjiang, was beaten and severely injured by his employer in December 2003. An official report pointed out that there were over 100 suicide accidents involving unpaid migrant workers in the Pearl River delta region during 2003.
The migrant workers have very little help from the government and there is no independent labor union to protect their rights. As a result, their rights are often severely violated and they have no place to go for justice. Migrant workers are required to pay for a "temporary residence card" which could be in thousands Yuans in order to stay in the cities they work. Like South Africa in its past, these workers are discrimated against. Their children have trouble to get into schools (usually asked to pay more; many were rejected for admission). Young women were locked up in the factories during the days and in their dorms in the nights, suffering varies abuses including rapes by the owners and managers. When a fire broken out, they died in dozens, even hundreds for unable to escape from the locked doors. These migrant workers also are the most likely victims of the government's repatriation program which produced many wrongfully treatments even deaths and was only cancelled recently after major public outcries.
4. Worker's Health and Safety
The year of 2003 is one of the worst years for worker's health and safety. One government report revealed that accidents and death at work increased by 16% compared with 2002. There were 132,830 deaths from January to October 2003. The sad fact is that most of the accidents could be avoid if proper health and safety measures were taken.
One of the worst accidents is the explosion of a natural gas well in Kaixian, Chongqing on December 23, 2003. Because of low quality drilling and unqualified technical personnel was unable to control the accident at an early stage, over a thousand people were killed during the accident (mostly by hydrogen sulfide gas poisoning) and more than ten thousand people were injured.
Death rate from underground coalmines remains to be the highest in China than the rest of the world. It was estimated that there were at least 5000 miners dead from underground accidents each year.
According to Shanxi government report, there were 153 coalmine accidents in the province during 2003, 496 people were dead. Among these, a single underground gas explosion accident claimed 62 lives at Xiaoyi city coalmine on March 22. The owner of the coalmine was informed many times that the health and safety measures at the mine were out of date and that production should be held until improvement was made. The warnings were, however, ignored and the workers were ordered to continue working.
In other cases, 48 people were killed in an underground explosion accident at Jianxi Coalmine in Jianxin on November 14, 2003; one accident at JiXi coalmine of Heilongjiang on February 23, 2004 killed 32 lives with 5 missing; an underground explosion at the Wangjiazhai coalmine in Guizhou took 24 lives with 2 missing.
5. Labor Movement in China
China's manufacturing workers are not permitted to organize independent unions to defend their basic rights and raise their wages. They are not permitted to strike. The full force of state terror - beatings, imprisonment, psychiatric internment, and torture -- is deployed against workers' attempts to exercise their right of association.
On one hand, the Chinese government-controlled media did all they could to cover up and not report workers protests around the country. It is believed that thousands of workers protests have taken place annually. On the other hand, the Chinese government continues its harsh treatment of self-organized workers.
Over 20 laid-off workers were arrested during a protest staged in Suizhou, Hubei in February 2004. A laid-off worker from XiuShui, JiangXi, Mr. Xu, GaoJin, was jailed for 4 months and house arrested for 6 months because he established a Laid-off Workers Association trying to get local laid-off workers together to help each other. Even these lawyers who defended for workers' rights were put in prisons.
In May 2003, after over 13 months detention (which is illegal by the government's own law), the 2 laid-off worker leaders from Liaoyan, Liaoning, Mr. Yao, FuXin and Mr. Xiao, YunLiang, were sentenced 7 and 4 years prison term by the Chinese government. Recent report revealed that their treatment in JinZhou Prison was very harsh and their health had deteriorated significantly. Yet the government repeatedly refused their appeals for an "out of prison treatment".
6. Effects on Workers of the World
If the workers' rights of one-quarter of the world's workforce are radically suppressed - as they in fact are, in China -- then labor conditions for the world's unskilled and semiskilled workers are worsened; domestic and global demand is depressed; excess productive capacity is created; and a path of inequitable, unsustainable development is promoted.
And when the fundamental right of association is denied, a crucial pillar of democratic governance is lost. The right to form autonomous associations in civil society is a precondition to resisting state tyranny and to mobilizing citizens for participation in pluralist political institutions. In recent years, autonomous worker organizations helped democratize such countries as South Africa, Brazil, Poland, and South Korea - a fact that is not lost on leaders of the Chinese autocracy.
By lowering wages by between 47 and 85 percent, as calculated by expert in the field, China's labor repression diverts millions of manufacturing jobs from countries where labor rights are not so comprehensively denied, increasing unemployment and poverty among workers in developed and developing countries. Highly conservative methodologies show that China's labor repression displaces hundred thousands manufacturing jobs in the United States alone. However, the real extended cost of unemployment could be in millions. Safeguarding the human rights of China's factory workers is a common interest of workers in all countries, as well as fair business competition.
Please understand that the Chinese government has successfully created an "unfair trade" under the umbrella of "free trade". Although they enter WTO, they do not carry out what they should have done, but instead, they use it for their own advantage, including being able exporting into the US market while still control and restrict the import of the American goods.
We support AFL-CIO to file this section 301 petition, because we believe this is important to the welfare of both American workers, as well as millions Chinese workers and their human rights, including rights of unionization to protect their own interest. This is also an opportunity to take away unfair business environment against US companies. And in a long run, it is an action for a real globalization - an equal, fair and democratic society.
Thank you very much for your attention.
另外两个作证人是：马克巴瑞博格(Mark Barenberg)博士，哥伦比亚大学法学教授，他负责起草了全美劳联产联的301请愿书。他有亲身经历，在中国北京大学教书期间，亲眼目睹了中国工人的状况。另一个是尼古拉罗迪(Nicholas Lardy)先生，国际经济研究所的高级研究员，他同意中国工人的状况的确问题严重，应该改进，但是他站在经济和商业的利益上反对前两个作证。
听证会进行了2个小时。参议院巴朗岛根(Byron Dorgan)主持了听证会，美国众议员乔治米勒(George Miller)在听证会上也很活跃。听证以后，黄慈萍接受了媒介记者采访，包括自由亚洲电台，美国之音，以及联合工会新闻组织，和美国其他有关工人和工会的媒介人士。