SACTWU salutes brave Chinese footware workers

23 April 2014

The SA Clothing and Textile Workers’ Union (SACTWU) salutes the brave 40 000 Chinese footwear workers who have been on strike since 14 April 2014. These workers are employees at footwear factories in the Chinese city of Dongguan. These factories belong to Hong Kong-based Yue Yuen Industrial Holdings, and workers there make shoes for premier international brands such as Nike, Adidas, Reebok, New Balance, Converse, Timberland, and Asics.

The workers’ main concern is that while the company is required by law to contribute every month to a social insurance account for workers, workers have discovered that their company has either under-contributed to their accounts, or not contributed at all. For instance, it seems the company has robbed workers of much of their benefit payments by calculating the payments on the basis of workers’ base wages instead of their actual wages. Yet actual wages are routinely double the base wage due to extensive overtime. This means social benefit payments are severely undervalued. In addition, it appears the company has paid only about 1 000 workers (out of 45 000 workers) their statutory housing payments.According to reports, this trickery has been going on for at least 10 years.

Many SACTWU members are familiar with this problem, since social benefit fraud occurs in South Africa too and is commonplace in places like Newcastle in KwaZulu Natal. The fraud takes many forms. For instance, many companies continue to simply refuse to make Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF) payments for their employees. At one clothing company in Madadeni only 3% of total workers are registered with the Department of Labour and have UIF payments made on their behalf. At another company, based in the industrial area in town, only 1 employee out of more than 200 is registered and receives payments. The list goes on.

This social benefit fraud is not simply illegal but also means that in the event that these workers lose their jobs, there is no social security safety net to catch them.

The Chinese and South African problems highlights the brutality of capitalism: that employers treat workers as commodities who can be squeezed for every last ounce of profit regardless of the cost. In this case the cost is the ability of workers to have even the most meagre social benefits.

SACTWU stands with our Chinese comrades, and says “An injury to one is an injury to all”.