Workers in Dispute at Suzhou NSG Electronics (Nippon Sheet Glass) in Suzhou, Jiangsu

22:42 Jun 14 2010 Suzhou, Jiangsu, China

From The Financial Times:

Yasuyuki Watanabe says he consults his workers on every issue, right down to the size of the rice portions in the company canteen. But, like a growing number of workers all over China, employees at Suzhou NSG Electronics, part of the Japanese group Nippon Sheet Glass, are worried as much about rights as rice.

At Mr Watanabe's glass factory in Suzhou, near Shanghai, 19 workers are locked out in a safety dispute; at nearby Suzhou EUP Electrical, seven workers have quit over unpaid bereavement leave; and last year, wildcat strikes broke out over pension payments.

Strikes were far from unusual in China, even before the recent headline-grabbing strikes at Honda suppliers. Those disputes appear to have inspired a handful of copycats elsewhere but in Suzhou,
Honda-style collective action aimed at raising pay has yet to happen.

Disputes in Suzhou seem to owe more to the 2008 Chinese labour law, which has subtly fostered a new culture of worker rights, labour analysts say. The law strengthened worker rights and has led to a huge rise in litigation and arbitration over individual labour disputes.

"China is entering into a new era of enhanced consciousness among workers," says Dong Baohua, professor of law at East China University of Politics and Law.
"Workers born after the 1980s and 1990s are concerned not just about pay but about safety, rights and respect."

At the labour protection bureau of Suzhou's new district industrial park, officials insist the disputes mostly involve small numbers. Still, they capture the painful maturation of China's industrial relations system, marked by poor communication between workers and management.

Asked why Japanese companies have recently been targeted by such disputes, bureau officials say Chinese middle managers often fail to pass complaints up the chain of command. "Generally, Japanese managers tend to be more aloof and hands off," said Graeme Maxton, analyst at Insight Bureau in Singapore.

At the Suzhou NSG plant, Zhang Yalin speaks for the locked-out workers. With their acid-washed jeans and spiky haircuts, these 20-something young men are not the migrant workers of old. They insist their dispute has nothing to do with Honda. "That strike is about pay, ours is about safety conditions," says Mr Zhang. They fear chemicals used in the glass-thinning process will cause long-term health damage. The workers have been sent home on 60 per cent pay.

NSG has asked the workers to prepare a "repentance letter" and meet management on Thursday to discuss resuming work. Mr Watanabe says the factory meets safety standards. An NSG official says workers "don't trust us".

Neither do they trust the government trade union officials mediating the dispute. Low union credibility is contributing to unstable relations, labour analysts say, adding that more disputes are inevitable.
Credibility: UP DOWN 0

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