Foxconn Workers’ Open Letter to the Trade Union for Nightshift Allowance
A group of Foxconn workers in Guanlan, Shenzhen plant posted on weibo, the Chinese tweeter, the open letter they sent to the chairperson of Foxconn trade union, CHEN Peng on 3rd October urging him to negotiate an increase in their nightshift allowance to RMB 25 with the management. At the same time, they demanded a clear standard of calculating the allowance and transparency of the progress of negotiation. The workers expected to receive feedback from the trade union in seven days. A copy of the letter was also sent to the Guangdong Provincial Federation of Trade Unions and the municipal federation in Shenzhen.
‘RMB 4.5 is just enough to grab a bottle of water, not a meal, or anything that top off our nutritious needs.’ The workers wrote. To them, this RMB 4.5 per day is a disgraceful amount as most of the nightshift allowance offered by other factories in Shenzhen is at the range of RMB 15-50 a day. Canon (Shenzhen) offers RMB 15 and Epson RMB 20. Some factories in Guangzhou offers even much more, which may reach RMB 50 a day.
The open letter is the first of its kind in Foxconn which has been challenged by workers preferring to use strikes, sabotages and some even committing suicide to make their demands heard, out of despair of seeing any improvement from the institutional channels. Pressing the official trade union to put its socks on and demanding accountability is a move seldom taken by migrant workers. The letter addresses the chairperson of the union ironically as “Chairperson CHEN whom we have not met”, and asks the trade union “to speak for the workers” and “stand on their side”.
A similar attempt was made earlier on 23 September by another Foxconn worker who posted five questions on weibo asking about the accountability of the corporate union. The post challenged the legitimacy of the corporate trade union by asking whether it was elected democratically by workers; how often and when did the trade union last convene the workers’ assembly; whether the trade union had open consultation and the endorsement of the workers’ assembly before signing the collective contract with the management; and more fundamentally, given the frustrations of workers, can the trade union truly represent the demands and protect the rights of the workers?
These actions reflect a higher level of trade union consciousness amongst the migrant workers never expressed with such sophistication before. Weibo has become the major venue not only for workers to break the censorship and publicise their industrial actions, but an important means for communicating and building up labour consciousness amongst themselves.
The Foxconn corporate union is forced to react to the open letter on its official weibo announcing that it is communicating with the management for a reasonable proposal on nightshift allowance. The corporate union was established in March 2007 and the chairperson was elected by an electorate of seventy-one worker representatives from different production sites. By now the trade union has branches in twenty-two sites and the corporate trade union claims to be representing 86.3% of the workforce in the corporate social responsibility report released this March.
However in the survey with more than six hundred Foxconn workers in four sites in Guangdong and Hubei province, released by the mainland university students and labour organizations in May this year, up to 60% and 80% of the workers knew nothing about the chairperson of the corporate union and the branch union they belonged to . Only 24.6% of them could tell they were members of the trade union and 16.9% of them had got a membership card. About 60% of them had no idea how they could join the trade union whereas 55% of them understood trade union membership as a requirement of the management.
11 October, 2013