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Our verification coordinator Ivo Spauwen is in China, sitting in on some audits and meeting our local partners and stakeholders. Yesterday he arrived in Hong Kong, where he will be performing a Management System Audit at the Hong Kong Headquarters of one of FWF’s affiliates.
29 January 2010, Hong Kong
Right now Hong Kong is 25 degrees hotter than Beijing. Imagine me arriving here wearing my winter coat..
Before leaving Beijing I met several well known scholars, learning about new developments in Chinese labour law and exchanging ideas on how FWF and its affiliates should strengthen dialogue on labour conditions between management and workers on factory level.
After arriving in Hong Kong I met with Monina Wong of Labour Action China. LAC is trying to develop a unified position on social security payments for labour organisers in Hong Kong. Among other things I discussed with her what FWF affiliates should expect from their suppliers with regard to social security coverage of their workforce.
Today I met with So Sheung of Labour Education Service Network (LESN), who is a specialist on worker training. As Sheung stresses, worker training should not just be about explaining the law, but possibly even more about developing workers’ generic communication skills. Because proper (worker) representation is about signalling a problem, formulating it as an opinion or suggestion and negotiating with management.
Sheung signals a tendency which is surfacing especially in China’s electronics industry: Workers leave school after 2 years to do a traineeship in a factory as encouraged by their school.
Many teachers often act as labour brokers, as they have a direct relationship with one or more factories. If they help workers get a factory job, they may take up to 50% from their wage as a traineeship fee. As a result the take-home wage of workers falls below the legal minimum wage. This situation is persistent as Chinese labour law does not explicitly prohibit such practices and does not specify a maximum traineeship fee. By contractual agreement factories often have no formal labour relationship with their workers, but with their schools instead. The situation can only be ended if students move to another employer or file a complaint at their school, which they rarely do as formal procedures to this end are absent.
LESN tries to tackle this situation by making efforts to integrate labour rights training into vocational schooling, enhancing workers’ awareness of their labour rights. I think this must indeed be part of an effective solution. Thinking about it.. labour rights education should be part of any kind of vocational schooling, right?
I’ll go for a hike in the New Territories tomorrow.