Students who carried out a summer 2008 investigation into the working conditions of agency staff in Coca Cola plants around China held a round table discussion with lawyers and social scientists in Beijing on Sunday December 28.
|Students who carried out a summer 2008 investigation into the working conditions of agency staff in Coca Cola plants around China held a round table discussion with lawyers and social scientists in Beijing on Sunday 28th December. [Photo John Sexton China.org.cn]|
Among those attending the discussion were lawyers Xu Yuling and Shi Fumao from the Beijing migrant workers legal aid office, Chen Bulei of Renmin University Labor Relations Department, and Shi Xiuying of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.
Introducing the discussion, one of the organizers of the investigation, Yang Zhengjun, said that the study had shown that the Labor Contract Law needed to be reformed.
|Yang Zhengjun (left), one of the organizers of an investigation into working conditions of agency staff at Coca Cola, and Chen Bulei of Renmin University Department of Labor Relations at a round table discussion held in Beijing on December 28, 2008. [Photo John Sexton, China.org.cn]|
He said at some Coca Cola plants, more than 90 percent of the staff were agency workers – more or less everyone except management and senior technical staff. Since they were hired long term and for general work, he claimed that this violated the law on the use of agency and contract labor.
He reiterated the disadvantages of the agency workers in terms of hygiene, housing, holidays and working hours. Agency staff often worked 12 hours per day for an entire month without a single day off. One worker was found to have worked 318 hours in one month. Yang said the group have photocopies of the relevant documents to support their conclusions.
He said the students submitted their findings to Coca Cola but had received no direct answer. Coca Cola had published a reaction on the Internet but hadn't answered the students directly and simply denied illegal practices without addressing the charges specifically.
Dr Chen Bulei of Renmin University Department of Labor Relations said while it seemed that Coca Cola had basically violated the law, the regulations concerning agency work were not clearly defined. He said that what workers needed was the right to collective bargaining, and questioned the effectiveness of local government labor departments in obliging employers to comply with the law, quoting the old Chinese adage''the sky is high and the emperor is far away.'' He urged China's official trade unions to take up the task of organizing and representing workers.
Professor Shi Xiuying of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS) praised the students' initiative, saying it represented a new kind of social action combining student activism, the Internet and the media. Compared with this activity, the success or failure of a legal case against this or that company was of little importance. Nevertheless, he said, it was necessary to examine the law, who made it and who was the driving force behind it.
|Professor Shi Xiuying of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences praised the initiative of students who organized an investigation into working conditions of agency staff at Coca Cola plants around China. [Photo John Sexton China.org.cn]|
Professor Shi said the Coca Cola situation was just one case but the important thing was to examine the general situation and what it means for the Chinese working class as a whole. He also raised the issue of whether contract labor should be abolished altogether in China, pointing out that in many other countries it is strictly regulated.
(China.org.cn by Gregor Kneussel and John Sexton, December 31, 2008)