Labour activist reveals debiliting working conditions in China

26 Jul

The labour rights forum organised by the Australian Manufacturing Workers’ Union (AMMWU) and Australian Fair Trade and Investment Network (AFTINET) at Tom Mann Theatre on 24th July, Sydney, focused on the labour rights situation in China and the plight of migrant workers in Australia.

Monina Wong, executive director for Labour Action China, touched on the debiliting working conditions in China. In her speech, she went into the history of the ‘opening up’ of the Chinese economy since the early 1980s, which has since caused the work force to become displaced and dispossessed. She displayed statistics (e.g. 49% of the deprived workers work more than 9 to 10 hours per day and with as many as 79.5% having no legal day off) to show the extent of the increasingly slavish working conditions in the country. At the end of her presentation, she highlighted a case study that the organisation undertook. Entitled the “Jewellery Campaign”, Labour Action China helped some Chinese workers sued their former employers who dismissed them after finding out that they had suffered from the work-related silicosis disease.

Paul Sebastian, State Secretary of AMMWU, touched on a wide range of labour issues in Australia such as Work Choices and the 457 temporary skilled migration scheme which has allowed employers to exploit often helpless and non- English speaking migrant workers.

Sophie, campaign co-ordinator for Amnesty International Australia, clarified that while her speech would not be focusing on labour rights, they would nevertheless touched on human rights issues in China. Nevertheless, she did briefly touched on a recent published AI report which revealed shocking working conditions among rural to urban migrant workers in China. They included horrid tales of workers being locked inside the factories by their employers or children of workers being denied state education.

As the world continues to view China as an important trading partner; with Australia planning to sign a free trade agreement with the former in the near future, it is imperative that Australian workers show some form of international solidarity with their Chinese counterparts. They could do so by expressing their concerns to politicians – that human rights and labour right clauses should be included and enforced in any trade agreements with China; and that the Chinese government give workers the right to form unions and collective action.

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