【英语中国】劳资纠纷在中国渐成寻常事 Disputes become a feature of labour relations in China

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2014-7-3 06:19

小艾摘要: On the evening of May 26, Professor Chang Kai held court in his small hotel room in central China, advising a group of labour activists on how they could defeat Walmart in an arbitration hearing the n ...
Disputes become a feature of labour relations in China
On the evening of May 26, Professor Chang Kai held court in his small hotel room in central China, advising a group of labour activists on how they could defeat Walmart in an arbitration hearing the next morning.

The stakes were high. Had the activists won, Walmart could conceivably have been forced to increase compensation for thousands of Chinese workers affected by about 20 planned store closures.

But last week Mr Chang, an expert in Chinese labour law, and his fellow activists lost decisively. The arbitration panel in the small city of Changde ruled in favour of Walmart, dismissing demands by 69 workers for greater compensation.

It was in some ways a Pyrrhic victory for Walmart. An operation that the retailer had hoped to rid itself of in just 30 days instead became the subject of a three-month legal battle. It was one that attracted considerable international and domestic media attention because of the unusually feisty role played by the store’s union, a chapter of the usually quiescent All China Federation of Trade Unions.

Walmart agreed to pay the 69 holdouts – out of an original workforce of 130 – Rmb3,000 ($480) each in recognition of their “legal costs” even though Mr Chang and other advisers had done so pro bono. The company insisted that the settlement offer was related to the legal dispute, rather than an acknowledgment that more compensation should have been paid initially. That way Walmart could argue that the deal should not be extended to the 61 other workers in Changde who accepted its original offer, let alone those at other closed outlets.

It was, in short, a whole lot of hassle over a small store closure by the world’s largest retailer. But such disputes are now a feature of China’s labour landscape and not even the largest multinationals are immune.

Until 2010, worker unrest was largely concentrated in small and medium-sized manufacturing operations, often Hong Kong or Taiwan-owned, where conditions were poor and pay low. But as demographic trends shifted in favour of labour, workers employed by some of the world’s most recognised companies dared to demand more. The result was a landmark series of strikes for higher pay at Honda and other Japanese automakers in southern Guangdong province.

More recently, slower economic growth and the lingering effects of the global financial crisis have forced everyone from exporters to retailers such as Walmart to retrench or restructure operations.

In a case like that in Changde, where an operation is being closed, the workers have nothing to lose by pressing for large compensation payouts. A similar dynamic played out last year at an American-owned tyre factory in eastern Shandong province. When workers there objected to the sale of Ohio-based Cooper Tire & Rubber to Apollo Tyres of India, they simply seized the factory and refused to surrender it until the acquisition was abandoned.

As difficult as such situations can be to manage, it could be a lot worse for multinational employers in China. Luckily for them, the Communist party is as suspicious of unions as Walmart is.

The ACFTU is deliberately structured as a top-down organisation that obeys the party and discourages the formation of horizontal links between union chapters. Imagine how much bigger a crisis Walmart would have faced if workers at its 400 other China outlets had decided to strike on behalf of their colleagues in Changde. Walmart workers understood that appealing to colleagues at other operations would trigger an immediate government response. There will be no Lech Walesas in China anytime soon.

Multinationals can also consider themselves fortunate that white-collar workers have not yet embraced trade union activism. But that could change. Within a year of the introduction of China’s Labour Contract Law in 2008, ACFTU chapters had been established at more than 80 per cent of the Fortune 500 companies with operations in the country. These chapters embraced everyone, from shop-floor workers to accountants and managers. The union leaders at Fortune 500 companies tend to be mid to high-ranking managers and are thus very conscious of their employer’s perspective.

The rank-and-file also realise that a secure job with good benefits at an employer such as GE, GM or Siemens is, in the larger scheme of China’s labour market, like winning the lottery. But then the people on Honda’s manufacturing lines once thought they had winning tickets, as did Walmart’s erstwhile employees. White-collar workers could well be the next force to be reckoned with in China.

Tom Mitchell is the Financial Times’ Beijing correspondent

今年5月26日晚间,常凯教授在华中地区一家酒店狭窄的房间里剖析案情,为一群劳工维权人士提供建议,研究次日上午如何在仲裁庭上打败沃尔玛(Walmart)。

此案关系重大。可想而知,如果维权的一方赢了,沃尔玛可能被迫提高对数千名受关店影响的中国员工的补偿。沃尔玛计划关闭大约20家门店。

但在上周,中国劳动法专家常凯和其他维权人士却彻底输了。常德市劳动仲裁委员会做出了有利于沃尔玛的裁决,驳回了69名工人要求增加补偿的要求。

从某些方面来说,沃尔玛也是惨胜。沃尔玛本来预计在30天内搞定关闭常德店这件事,结果却陷入了长达3个月的法律纠纷。由于隶属中华全国总工会(All China Federation of Trade ,简称ACFTU)的沃尔玛常德店工会在其中扮演了异常活跃的角色,这起纠纷引起了国际和国内媒体的极大关注。中华全国总工会通常在劳资纠纷中表现得非常低调。

沃尔玛同意向69名拒不妥协的员工(常德门店原有130名员工)每人支付3000元人民币(合480美元),以补偿他们的“诉讼费用”,尽管常凯和其他顾问都是无偿提供法律服务的。沃尔玛坚称,这是为了解决此次法律纠纷而提出的调解方案,并非承认最初就应向员工支付更多补偿。这样沃尔玛就可以辩称,该方案不应扩大至接受最初安置方案的其他61名员工,更别提其他被关门店的员工了。

简言之,这家全球最大零售商为了关闭区区一家小店就惹来了一大堆麻烦。但此类纠纷现在已成为中国劳动领域的一个特征,即便是最大型的跨国公司也无法幸免。

在2010年之前,工人抗议活动大多发生在中小型制造企业,通常是香港或台湾企业,这些企业的工作环境恶劣,工资也很低。但随着人口状况的变化趋势逐渐有利于工人,一些全球声誉最佳的公司的员工们也敢于提出更多的要求。在南方的广东省,本田(Honda)等多家日本汽车制造商的工人们为寻求加薪而举行了一系列罢工活动,这些罢工具有里程碑式的意义。

更近一些时候,经济放缓加上全球金融危机挥之不去的影响,迫使各类企业收缩或重组业务,包括出口企业以及沃尔玛等零售商。

就像常德关店事件一样,工人们要求高额补偿并不会遭受任何损失。去年在位于华东地区的山东省,一家美资轮胎工厂就上演了类似事件。该厂的工人们反对总部位于美国俄亥俄州的固铂轮胎橡胶公司(Cooper Tire & Rubber)向印度阿波罗轮胎公司(Apollo Tyres)出售公司的计划,他们占领了工厂,并拒绝妥协,直至固铂放弃出售计划。

此类局面本来就难以应对,对在华开展业务的跨国企业来说就更难了。但对它们来说,幸运的是,中共和沃尔玛一样不信任工会。

中华全国总工会被设计成自上而下的组织形式,听命于党并阻止同级分会建立联系。想象一下,如果沃尔玛在中国的其他400家门店的工人们决定为了支持常德员工而举行罢工,沃尔玛将面临多么大的危机。沃尔玛的工人们明白,向其他门店的员工们求助将会立即引发政府的反应。中国短期内不会出现莱赫?瓦文萨(Lech Walesa)式的人物。

还有一点也可能让跨国公司觉得很幸运,那就是白领工人迄今未接受“工会活动主义”。但这种情况可能发生改变。2008年,中国出台了《劳动合同法》(Labour Contract Law)。一年内,在中国设有业务的《财富》(Fortune)500强企业中,逾80%成立了中华全国总工会的分会。这些工会肯吸纳每一个人,从一线生产工人到会计和经理人。《财富》500强企业中的工会领导人往往是本企业的中高层经理,因此非常在意雇主的看法。

普通民众也意识到,从中国更广泛的劳动力市场来看,在通用电气(GE)、通用汽车(GM)或西门子(Siemens)等公司拥有一份高薪而稳定的工作就像彩票中奖一样。但本田在华工厂的工人们也一度觉得自己中奖了,就像沃尔玛昔日的员工一样。白领群体很可能成为中国下一股不可忽视的力量。

注:本文作者是英国《金融时报》驻北京记者。

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