iLabour Action Group (formerly The new generation migrant workers concern programme” research team) has released a statement to respond to the recent statement by Foxconn Technology Group to All-China Federation of Trade Unions (ACFTU) to excuse its labour rights violations. Below is the English translation of the statement.
Not only not perfect: aware of wrongs, yet unwilling to change
— An open letter from the iLabour Action Group to Foxconn Technology Group
Original Chinese text: http://ilabour.org/Item/Show.asp?m=1&d=3665
On February 2nd, All-China Federation of Trade Unions (ACFTU) Party Secretary and Legal Department Executive Mr. Guo Jun specifically critiqued Foxconn for its constant assignment of illegal amounts of overtime to workers, leading to a variety of mental health problems, as well as death from overwork and suicide. The ACFTU pointed out the truth of Foxconn’s constant illegal overtime; called upon the union’s rights to rectify an enterprise’s illegal practices, as laid out in the Labor Union Law; and carried out the duty of the union to defend worker’s legal rights.
In response to the ACFTU’s sincere critique, Foxconn not only failed to humbly accept the critiques or express any commitment to change, but instead in its February 3rd public statement, made claims such as, “constant overtime is a problem faced by all manufacturing enterprises” and “there is no relationship between constant overtime and incidents of death from overwork or suicide.” It took the illegal practices pointed out by the ACFTU as “a matter of course,” running counter to the spirit widely promoted by the Party and government in its “rule of law nation” documents.
The iLabour Action Group has been continuously monitoring the state of Foxconn workers’ labor rights. We summarize our last few years of research on frontline Foxconn workers as well as media reports on Foxconn, and point out the unreasonable or even illegal areas in Foxconn’s overtime arrangements, basic wages, and handling of worker suicides. We hope the ACFTU and other sectors of society will continue to keep watch on Foxconn’s illegal practices, and that Foxconn will sincerely and actively work to correct these practices.
I. Foxconn has not strictly implemented a “six-to-one” work-to-rest ratio policy. Some business groups during busy periods have implemented “one day off every two weeks” or “one day off per month” policies that seriously impact workers’ rights to rest.
The 2012 report of the “two-coast, three-region Foxconn-watch student action group” points out that Foxconn’s overtime exceeded the 36 hour maximum specified in the Labor Law, and according to our follow-up research, this condition has not changed. One frontline Foxconn worker reported to the research group that during the busy season, he worked over 140 hours of overtime per month for several months in a row, one month even working 152 hours of overtime. The factory requested workers take “13-to-1”, or even “30-to-1” work-to-rest arrangements. In order to cover up such illegal practices, Foxconn instructed workers not to punch in to work on Sundays, in order that workers’ records would reflect the supposed “6-to-1” ratio, while secretly compensating the extremely excessive overtime in the form of bonuses. Foxconn intentionally ignored the “one day of rest per week” requirement specified in China’s Labor Law, and intentionally fabricated appearances to cover up these practices; this is extremely malicious illegal behavior. Furthermore, as a Fortune 500 major enterprise, Foxconn should be acting as a model in respecting the law, but instead it offered “constant overtime is a problem faced by all manufacturing enterprises” as an excuse for its obviously illegal behavior, arrogantly ignoring the basic requirements of the Labor Law. It knowingly breaks the law, holding contempt the authority of our nation’s legal system!
II. Foxconn’s inadequate base wage is the primary reason that workers are forced to accept constant overtime.
As expressed in its open letter, Foxconn believes it has already been “continuously increasing workers’ base wages and subsidies”, but this does not accord with our research findings. In 2010, after the series of Foxconn workers suicides, Foxconn enacted a relatively large increase in workers’ base wages, but this was in truth simply cutting the room and board subsidies workers had previously received and adding them in cash form into workers’ base wages. There was no real increase in frontline workers’ real income.
Furthermore, since 2010, Foxconn’s wage growth has stagnated. In Shenzhen, for example, Foxconn announced in October 2010 that workers’ base wages would be raised to 1800-2200 yuan. Four years later, most frontline workers’ base wages are only 1900-2300 yuan. In four years, wages have only increased by 100 yuan, even less than the increase in the consumer product index. Workers have commented that their basic compensation today is “even worse than before the suicides”! This is Foxconn’s so called “continuously increasing workers base wages and subsidies”! In 2012, Foxconn CEO Terry Gou once declared he would in one year’s time increase mainland Chinese workers’ base wages to the level of Taiwanese workers’, approximately 4000-4400 yuan per month. Two and a half years later, it is evident that Gou’s public promise was just a joke played on Foxconn’s million plus mainland workers. Gou had other motives in publically creating and promoting such a rumor.
Precisely because base wages are low, in order to cover basic living expenses, workers are forced to accept the severely excessive overtime arranged by the factory. In 2013, Foxconn’s achieved a net profit of 21.1 billion RMB. It is perfectly capable of raising the base wages of its one million plus mainland workers, but it instead it chooses to bolster workers’ incomes through constant overtime, taking workers’ rights to rest as a joke.
III. “Caring” for those with mental health issues by dismissal, frequent worker suicides continuing to happen.
The 2010 “Two-coast, Three-region” Foxconn-watch Research Report pointed out that Foxconn’s serial worker suicides were intimately related to systematic factors like Foxconn’s harsh and inhumane management system, excessively long work hours, and excessive labor intensity. We also revealed that Foxconn was using its “staff care center” to discover “problem” staff, firing workers who “mental health consultants” suspected of having mental health problems within 24 hours. In 2013, the Southern Metropolis Daily reported the story of Foxconn worker Zhang, who was fired for “threatening the company and disrupting normal management” because of taking some sleeping pills in what other workers mistook for a suicide attempt.
Though since 2012, news of Foxconn suicides have rarely appeared in the media, this does not mean the “suicide prevention nets” have completely stopped worker suicides. On July 27, 2014, Foxconn worker Kang jumped to his death from Longhua Foxconn’s Baimingyuan dormitory. Subsequently, approaching National Day, worker poet Xu Lizhi jumped on the second day of his return to working at Foxconn, attracting widespread media attention. In addition to these publically reported suicides, according to our combing of online information, there have been many more suicide incidents in 2014. These frequent suicides of young workers should not simply be understood as “individual misfortunes;” they should be understood as the odious result of workers’ oppression under Foxconn’s management system. We must not forget, Tian Yu—a female worker who attempted suicide in 2010—was pushed to jumping because of Foxconn’s inhumane management. To attribute these suicides to worker’s personal reasons is just Foxconn’s way of evading responsibility
Overall, we believe: (1) Foxconn’s constant illegal overtime arrangements are an absolute fact, and the basic reason for this phenomenon is that Foxconn’s base wages are too low, forcing workers to accept the factory’s seriously excessive overtime. (2) Foxconn has ignored the continued frequent suicides of young workers in recent years, and has not corrected the many problems with its factory management. The attempt to explain and deny responsibility for these practices demonstrates Foxconn’s lack of concern for workers lives!
We believe Foxconn’s statement is absolutely not representative of, and cannot possibly reflect, the thoughts of one million plus Foxconn workers. Its purpose can only be to mask the truth and deny responsibility. A real understanding of worker’s living conditions depends on the research of various sectors of society, including civilian groups and unions, coming from a position of fairness and deep inquiry into workers’ lives. Otherwise, Foxconn workers cannot escape being represented and spoken for; their real circumstances will remain masked by the singular declaration of the enterprise.
The ACFTU should be commended for faithfully carrying out its responsibilities and taking the initiative to expose this enterprise’s harmful illegal circumstances, but we believe their efforts should not stop here, and should, on the basis of solid research, hold real enterprise base level union elections and promote wage collective bargaining on a basis of true worker participation, thus linking workers’ wages with enterprise profit. Only thus can they truly eliminate the phenomenon of Chinese workers’ constant and severely excessive overtime.