by Debby Chan
Hong Kong, 7 August 2012
In the run-up to the 18th National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party (18th NCCCP), where the CCP will select its top leaders, the paramount political task of local governments is “social stability”. There is nothing wrong in trying to maintain social order, yet social stability with Chinese characteristic means suppression of any dissenting voice or even potentially dissenting voices. Since February 2012, seven labour NGOs have been closed down by the Guangdong authorities. The local governments evaded their responsibilities by saying that all of the affected NGOs coincidentally had problems with their landlords. Nonetheless, the intervention by authorities cannot be clearer. Landlords conceded that they were under pressure from local government, and an NGO reported that dozens of police monitored the relocation of its office. Students & Scholars Against Corporate Misbehaviour (SACOM) opposes the systematic crackdown on these labour organizations by the Guangdong government, as it deeply impedes social harmony and eventually provokes labour disputes. SACOM calls upon Mr. Wang Yang, the Guangdong Communist Party Secretary, who is considered to be a reformer, to respond promptly to the wave of crackdowns on NGOs.
The Shenzhen Spring Breeze Labour Disputes Service Centre was the first victim of the repression on labour rights groups, followed by the Yuandian Worker Service Centre, the Shenzhen Migrant Worker Centre, the Green Grass Worker Service Centre, the Times Female Worker Service Centre, the Little Grass Workers’ Home and a labour right NGO in Longgang district, Shenzhen which declined to be named. Given that there is a huge gulf between the labour standards on the books and the enforcement of laws, labour rights violations are prevalent in Guangdong Province. Excessive overtime, underpayment and delayed wage payment, hazardous working environments, cheating on social insurance payments, and denial of severance payment are widespread problems. The rising number of strikes is the best illustration of the intensifying industrial relations conflicts. In times of escalating labour disputes, the presence of NGOs is vital in supporting workers to seek justice. Since the mid-1990s, NGOs have strived for labour rights through delivering rights training and legal advice. Equally important, they provide social support for migrant workers in cities where they come to work. Without a doubt, the rights awareness among Guangdong workers is much higher than that of inland workers. This can be attributed to the long-standing work of service and advocacy provided by NGOs in the region. As such, these attacks on the labour NGOs do not only trample on freedom of association, but deepen the social conflicts in Guangdong Province.
Prior to the crackdown, SACOM had high expectations of the Guangdong government under Wang Yang’s leadership. The “Resolution of the CCPC and People’s Government of Guangdong on Strengthening Social Construction” was adopted in August 2011, intended to facilitate NGO registration. Parallel to that, the official trade union in Shenzhen also announced a program to standardize the process of democratic trade union elections in Shenzhen. To this end, union elections will be carried out at 163 enterprises this year. However, the recent repression of NGOs contradicts the liberal policy of the government. These are serious infringements of civil rights and labour rights, and must be rectified immediately.
In the lead up to the 18th NCCCP, there is speculation as to whether the reformers or hardliners will take office. For civil society, there is no chance to exert influence in the process. Regardless of the outcome, SACOM demands that the government adhere to the laws and demonstrate respect for the civil rights of the NGOs. SACOM calls on Wang Yang to reaffirm his commitment to reform through action, and to prevent further harassments of the labour NGOs in Guangdong.
Sze Wan Debby Chan is Project Officer for the Hong Kong-based Students & Scholars Against Corporate Misbehavior (SACOM).