MAC/20: Mines and Communities

The attrition behind China's economic "miracle"

Published by MAC on 2008-09-29

Between 1998 and 2004 an estimated thirty million Chinese workers lost their jobs, as the regime effectively privatised a large number of its SOEs (State Owned Enterprises).

Although these employees were legally entitled to compensation andguarantees of future livelihoods, hundreds of thousands of them became the victims of corrupt management and local government nepotism.

In response, the number of citizens' protests - street demonstrations, sit-ins and strikes - rose from around 10,000 during 1993 to 60,000 in 2003; the estimated number of participants in these direct actions shot up from 730,000 in 1993 to 3.7 million, eleven years later.

According to an important new report, published by China Labour Bulletin in Hong Kong and Canada's Rights & Democracy, the state has itself been complicit in denying these rights.

Moreover, many of those who protest too vigorously are treated as criminals and arbitrarily imprisoned.

In the report the author's cite several recent such cases, including a description of what happened after workers at the Liayong ferro-alloys factory, Liaoning province, staged city-wide protests against their dismissal in 2002.


New study exposes the human cost of China's economic miracle

HONG KONG / MONTREAL - Sept. 24, 2008 - A large part of China's remarkable economic development has been achieved at the expense of the basic rights of millions of former state-owned enterprise workers, says a new report released today by the Hong Kong-based China Labour Bulletin and Canada's International Centre for Human Rights and Democratic Development, commonly known as Rights & Democracy.

"No Way Out: Worker Activism in China's State-Owned Enterprise Reforms" is based on five years of research. It draws extensively on China Labour Bulletin's litigation in defense of worker's rights. The publication studies the many ways the restructuring and privatization of China's state-owned enterprises (SOEs) in the last 20 years have violated the human rights of the workers laid-off in the process. Violations documented include the systematic exclusion of former SOE workers from official channels of redress, criminalization of labour protests, and the denial of workers' rights to social security, to an adequate standard of living, to freedom of association and to freedom from arbitrary detention.

One of the cases documented in the report is that of Wang Guilan, a rights activist who was sentenced without trial last month to fifteen months of "re-education through labour," reportedly for speaking with a foreign journalist during the Beijing Olympics.

"The Chinese government insists that the 'right to subsistence' takes precedence over human rights but the SOE reform program inflicted great harm on millions of citizens on both these counts," said Han Dongfang, Executive Director of China Labour Bulletin. "This is a major social problem, and a solution to it is long overdue."

"Former workers from China's state-owned enterprises have seen their rights undermined by the reform of these industries and their government's inadequate preparations for dealing with such widespread injustice," said Remy M. Beauregard, President of Rights & Democracy. "The government should take immediate action to improve the administration of justice so that worker's rights are respected."

The government's failure to implement clear policy guidelines for the reform of SOEs, combined with a lack of transparency, flawed auditing of company assets and widespread official corruption, has left a great number of workers and their families at the mercy of a system that views their demands for compensation and rights as dissent. The study details numerous cases where protests against lay-offs and other labour-related concerns led to arrests and conviction on charges including subversion.

No Way Out concludes with a set of policy recommendations to the Chinese government outlining the steps urgently needed to address the widespread grievances of former SOE workers and their families.

China Labour Bulletin and Rights & Democracy have been partners since 1996. Among other initiatives, Rights & Democracy supports China Labour Bulletin's labour rights litigation project, which provides legal aid services to migrant workers and contributes to the development of a case law database.

For more information on the report, please contact:

Geoff Crothall, China Labour Bulletin, in Hong Kong (Chinese and English): 852-6402-1530 (cell) or 852-2780-2187 (office)

Steve Smith, Rights & Democracy, in Montreal: 514-898-4157.

To access the report (which is also avalable in French and Chinese ) please go to: http://www.clb.org.hk/en/files/share/File/research_reports/No_Way_Out__eng_.pdf

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