Changing Approaches to Old Problems – Sunday, 13.6.2010
The Mirror, Vol. 14, No. 668
Though the development of labor unions has progressed over the years, there were always also tensions. First, it has to be acknowledged that there will always be tensions, that is: between labor unions on the one side, through which workers express their opinion and negotiate their claims and rights – and the owners of the enterprises where they work. Both sides need each other, and it is always necessary to work towards an equilibrium between both sides and their interests.
In many countries with a market economy system, it is the state that is watching over this balance of power so that it is fair and helps maintain social peace and, if possible, also economic progress in a society. But when one of these sides has the impression that the state does not take a neutral position, but is favoring one side over the other, relations get strained.
The recently passed legislation to restrict public demonstrations by limiting the number of participants to 200, and to designate a place for these people to meet, restricting their public display by marching together, followed by announcements that the Ministry of Labor is drafting a new law on Labor Unions. While there was no general opposition to regulate the role of labor unions by law, it was greeted by suspicion that it is another attempt to control the unions, for example be imposing some mechanisms how they have to report their finances transparently. – It is not publicly known that the government is planning to impose similar regulations on the other side. The Ministry of Labor has indicated that the draft of the law would be made available for discussion in time – again this is not yet seen to come, after the draft anti-corruption law had been kept confidential almost until the time when it was discussed and voted upon.
At the same time where such a move to more regulation by the state is perceived in Cambodia, there are unprecedented movements in China that workers of some international companies are breaking out of the system of the Chinese, state regulated labor unions, where workers have started to act independently – not 200, but close to 20,000 in one place – to claim public attention to their situation.
The Bangkok Post presented an interesting analysis and overview of these developments – and its problems – on 13 June 2010:
On Friday morning, about 17,000 workers at a Honda car parts plant in Zhongshan, China, held a protest march to the factory gates. They were demanding an almost doubling of their wages and the right to form their own labor unions, as opposed to the government controlled national federation of trade unions. This was the third Honda plant hit by a work stoppage in the last two weeks…
It is more that a little ironic that China, a country that in March announced a new certification system for reporters which requires training in Marxist theories, has been seeing increasing incidents of labor groups demonstrating for greater rights.
It is, of course, a basic premise of Marxism that capitalism exploits the working class, who are the true producers of wealth in society.
The events in Zhongshan follow close on the heels of the bad publicity surrounding a spate of suicides at the giant Foxconn Technology group… which employs more than 300,000 workers making iPhones and other electronic devices. Workers at the compound complained that they were driven like robots by the excessively fast assembly line…
The company agreed to a 65% pay increase for workers, which it says will be passed on to the buyers of its electronic goods.
It is encouraging that the company has taken steps to improve the lot of workers, but this coincides with the announcement that the company might move some of its production lines back to Taiwan, if the government there offers enough incentives, especially lowering the minimum wage for hiring foreign laborers.
The awakening of China’s labor force has to be considered a good thing, but striking a balance that allows a much better quality of life for workers, and enough profitability to keep the companies offering foreign direct investment interested will be a challenge for the workers, for the companies, and for the government.
The Mirror had reported recently about a protracted labor conflict – and that the plan of workers to suspend their work for three days, to demand an increase of salaries, and that the employer obey the labor law, is still not canceled.
Such developments may have an influence also on Cambodia. Not only in terms of labor-management relations in Cambodia, but it may also lead to new job opportunities for Cambodian workers abroad – an increasing number of people finding employment and economic returns in other countries: in Malaysia, in South Korea, and increasingly in some Arab countries.
And this at a time – though in a different context – when the Cambodian Watchdog Council is requesting that the number of foreigners living in Cambodia should be made more transparent, and probably more controlled.
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