300 Chinese workers at factory supplying Uniqlo strike over plant closure

Say management is forcing them to move to another factory; demanding a proper negotiation for the relocation.

BEIJING — More than 300 Chinese workers at a garment factory that supplies international brands such as Uniqlo have been protesting for about two weeks what they say is a unilateral decision by the management to close down.

The strike is one of more than 1,000 collective actions since January by Chinese workers, who are increasingly turning to group actions in fighting for their rights.

Hong Kong-based China Labor Bulletin has reported 1,379 workers’ strikes in China in 2014, up from 656 the previous year, as China’s economy slows down and workers have become more aware of their legal rights.

To defend their rights, Chinese workers – as advised by labour activists – are opting for collective actions, such as group negotiations, but they also see interventions from local governments that are wary of any organized activity.

Workers at Shenzhen Artigas Clothing & Leatherware in southern China said the management is forcing them to move to another factory and they demand a proper negotiation for the relocation.

Officials at Lever Style Limited, which manages Artigas, have refused to comment, while Uniqlo Co., Ltd. has issued a statement urging for a peaceful resolution.

The Japanese retailer said it could terminate its contract with the supplier if the matter is unresolved.

“We are concerned by the reported strike, and have urged Lever Style Limited to undertake thorough discussions with the workers, for a peaceful resolution,” said the Uniqlo statement, issued about a week ago.

Asked if its public statement has had any sway on Lever Style, the Uniqlo said it will continue “to monitor the situation and keep requesting the supplier to discuss with the workers.”

Artigas workers said the management is yet to sit down for negotiations. The workers said they would like to receive proper payouts, including back payments for social security, overtime work, and unused holidays, before they would sign new, proper contracts to work in the new location, which is 20 minutes away by public transportation.

“They have removed the needles from the machines, so we have not been able to work at all,” said a female worker who requested anonymity for fear of retaliation from both the management and the local government.

“Before we should say whether we are willing to move to the new location, the management should have asked us and discussed the matter with us,” she said. “Instead, they made the announcement in the morning and began to move machines in the afternoon.

“This should not have been a unilateral thing,” the worker said.

© 2015 The Canadian Press

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