A WEEKEND explosion at a Shanghai factory run by Apple supplier Pegatron injured 61 workers, 23 of whom were hospitalised according to the Taiwan-based components maker. An explosion in May at another factory operated by Apple’s main parts supplier, Foxconn, killed three workers.
Apple and its Taiwan-based suppliers of parts for iPhones, iPads, Macs, and other devices have come under fire from labour advocacy groups for allegedly unsafe and exploitative working conditions at several mainland China-based factories in recent years.
In addition to several explosions and other worker safety incidents in the last 15 months, a string of worker suicides at plants run by Foxconn has raised serious questions about how Apple’s partners treat their employees.
The most recent explosion occurred at a plant in Shanghai’s Songjiang industrial park that is operated by Pegatron subsidiary Riteng Computer Accessory Co. Chinese state television reported the explosion.The Riteng factory had not actually been officially opened when the explosion tore through it over the weekend, according to a Pegatron executive.
‘The factory has not started operations yet,’ said Charles Lin, Pegatron’s chief financial officer. ‘Part of the facility is still under pre-operation inspection and part is running trial production.’
The plant was reportedly set to begin making back panels for Apple’s iPad 2, though neither Pegatron nor Apple would confirm that. An analyst said that the explosion would only cause ‘relatively minor’ disruption to Apple’s supply chain, unlike the explosion at Foxconn’s Chengdu, which involved a more important Apple supplier.
‘It’s a setback but it’s relatively minor,’ Sterne Agee analyst Shaw Wu said. ‘The Foxconn explosion was a much bigger deal but still they were able to work around it fairly quickly.’
Meanwhile, hundreds of overseas workers marched to government headquarters to fight for employment rights and against discrimination on International Migrants Day.
Among them were around 600 Indonesian domestic helpers – members of the largest ethnic minority group in Hong Kong – held banners declaring they are not slaves and called among other things for their monthly pay to be increased from around HK$3,500 to HK$4,000.
Thousands of domestic workers are vital as they contribute to family well-being so breadwinners may focus on work, said Amy Sim, an assistant professor of sociology at the University of Hong Kong.
‘Unfortunately, this marginalised group does not receive equal recognition,’ Sim added.
Ganika Diristiani, deputy secretary of the Association of Indonesia Migrant Workers in Hong Kong, said: ‘The Indonesian government does not provide any protection or assistance to intervene with private agencies on commission. A worker must pay HK$2,100 each month in the first seven months, which is unfair.
‘We should pay only 10 per cent of our wage in the first month, but Indonesian government officials are biased in favour of the agencies due to connections and corruption.’
Many revealed they rely on unions and nongovernmental organisations for help during disputes and struggles.
Among them, Antik Pristiwahyudi, chairwoman of the Indonesian Migrant Workers’ Union, asked: ‘Why do we have to be quiet and isolated?’
Domestic workers are on call 24 hours a day and must tackle any kind of work that employers request, added the 28-year-old, who has worked in Hong Kong for nine years but who has switched employers four times.
‘I always feel rejected even if I’ve done well,’ she said. ‘My present boss, a 94-year-old woman, often yells at me and causes distress.’
She is homesick and says there is little sense of belonging in Hong Kong because of a lack of social cohesion and an unpleasant working environment.
Also, massive pay cuts have been aired for political assistants.
There is an attempt being made to reduce the salaries of political assistants by as much as 30 to 40 per cent, says the secretary for constitutional and mainland affairs.
Raymond Tam Chi-yuen admitted his bureau has received many questions about the wages of political assistants as they are significantly higher than those received by civil servants with similar years of experience.
He said the salaries of political assistants may be marked down and their job titles changed.
‘I personally believe the salaries could be adjusted,’ Tam said on Commercial Radio.
‘As to their role, it’s worth studying as many of them do not have to attend Legislative Council meetings or meet the media.’
He added: ‘Being a special assistant to the secretary may be a job title people could understand better.’
Tam said a political assistant’s job is comparable to that of a senior administrative officer in the civil service who earns HK$82,975 to HK$95,595 a month.
‘I believe the next government will learn from this experience,’ he said. ‘They also do not have to hire them for five years straight, and only hire when they find a suitable candidate.
‘Another possibility is to give a lump sum to the secretary to employ a special assistant. He or she could use the sum to recruit someone experienced in elections, or those involved in management, administration or politics.’
Tam reiterated the importance of special assistants. He cited the example of Ronald Chan Ngok- pang, a former director of think tank Savantas, who was appointed special assistant to the Chief Executive’s Office last year.
Yet Tam said any changes may only be made after the new government takes office next year, following the chief executive election in March.
l A railway conductor who discovered that he and his colleagues had been secretly demoted while at the same time being required to perform additional duties has fought back by demanding the removal his department’s trade union chairman for dereliction of duty.
Zhu Chunsheng, a 27-year veteran of the railways, had been employed at the passenger transport division of the Harbin Railway Bureau, which covers the whole of Heilongjiang and part of Inner Mongolia, since 1987. In 2006, as part of a cost-cutting drive, the division secretly downgraded his job status, cut his salary and increased his job duties.
Zhu only discovered the change in his status, pay and conditions when he sought to return to work in 2010 after a long layoff due to a work-related injury, and he estimates that more than 1,000 conductors and other workers throughout the Bureau were being cheated in the same way.
When Zhu approached his trade union for help, he was given the brush off and told to deal with the problem himself. Zhu did just that and started linking up with other victims in a bid to oust the union leaders. Zhu says he wants the union to be democratically elected according to the provisions of the Trade Union Law. To do this he has written to both the All-China Federation of Trade Unions (ACFTU) and Harbin Railway Bureau, and collected over 60 signatures from fellow workers.
‘Because its members were not elected by us, nobody knows who the representatives are. Nobody elected them. The chairman “fell from the sky,” so to speak; he was simply installed. But under Trade Union Law and the Constitution, the deputy chairman and committee members must all be elected.
Zhu believes the union was complicit in approving the official personnel directive that led to his demotion.
Zhu received no replies to his requests to the ACFTU and the national railway union for help in reforming his departmental union. He therefore started collecting signatures with the aim of doing the job himself — arranging the election of a new leadership and union committee.
Zhu is determined to get as many workers as possible involved, cutting across job demarcations.
Not surprisingly, his campaign attracted the interest of the authorities, who, Zhu said, fear that a strike could break out. Before the New Year in 2011, he was ‘invited to talk things over’ with a local Party official and the union.
‘They told me to lay off things because what I was doing was “instigation of rebellion”. They said, “Maintenance of stability is the main priority”. Conflict should be avoided. Just going to work is in and of itself a form of stability. They said that I was “fostering instability”,’ said Zhu.
Zhu represents the revolutionary determination that more and more Chinese workers are beginning to show in the struggles with Communist Party bureaucrats and the new bourgeoisie that they have spawned.