Follow-up on Robust water factory strike in Guangzhou
It was the sixth day of the strike at Robust Water Factory in Guangzhou. Groupe Danone of France still refused to respond to the workers’ demand – a seniority-based compensation. According to the workers, Danone “don’t have sincerity” and adopted different means to threaten the workers to return to their position. They deleted workers’ Weixin messages (a messaging app prevalently used in China) to silence workers’ opposition. They also invited the Labour Department to the factory for “legal education”, telling the workers that Robust did not violate any laws, attempting to create differentiation among workers. A worker was injured during a conflict with Danone and was subsequently punished owing to her “disruption of order”. Workers spontaneously raise fund for the injured worker.
Editor’s note: Starting from the 8th of November, workers working in the Robust Water Factory of Danone in Guangzhou began to strike, so as to show their dissatisfaction towards Danone. Danone refused to compensate the workers according to their seniority after selling the water factory. So far, Danone does not respond to the reasonable demands of the workers. Instead, they tried to retaliate by different means, such as deleting workers’ Weixin messages, punishing the workers, inviting the labour department to “educate” the workers and to support Danone.
On the 8th of November, Danone promised to negotiate with the workers and to release a detailed arrangement for the settlement of the workers. However, according to the workers, “they (Danone) are not coming for communication, they don’t have sincerity.”
Around 8 am, Danone’s admin staff arrived at the factory. They first talked to the workers at the production line and threatened to punish them. They asked the workers to get out of there. A manager called Yao said that, “I give you 20 minutes, I will immediately call somebody else to replace you if you don’t start working.”
In a subsequent meeting, a staff member from Danone’s headquarters violated the mutual agreement of no video recording. Even though some workers raised objection, the staff continued to take pictures. “They videotaped for retaliation,” a worker said.
At that time, workers surrounded the staff to ask him to delete the video. A female worker, Fan Huarong was standing on the periphery. She was pushed by the abovementioned manger Yao. “I feel I am about to fall and I grabbed his clothes. He also kicked my waist and it was too painful. It made me cry.” On the next day, a notice of the punishment of Fan was posted at the factory gate. Her performance bonus was deducted by 30%, her annual salary adjustment and the eligibility of the year-end award was also cancelled.
Fan Huarong was dissatisfied with the punishment. “I just raise few demands on the meeting held on the 3rd of November. How come it was a disruption of order?” As Yao kicked her waist, she felt a dull pain. Accompanied by the workers, Fan went to hospital for medical check. It was confirmed that her soft tissue at the back of her waist was injured. “We have worked together for more than ten years and we are like sisters. She has difficulty now and we should help her,” said by the workers who wanted to raise fund for her.
Fan with soft tissue injury
In the next meeting, neither the punishment on Fan nor the act of Yao was discussed. Instead, Danone managers tried to conduct group interviews. Yet, workers had clearly expressed their will that they did not accept group interview in the previous meeting held on the 3rd November and demanded the factory to release the compensation plan in front of all workers. High rank management staff orally proposed another plan but it was not accepted by the workers.
11th November, morning, staff of the local Labour department arrived at the factory to “educate” the workers, asking them the basis of their claim – a seniority-based compensation. After workers had proposed the case of Pepsi’ sales of its factory to Kangshifu, staff of the Labour Department asked them their source of information and said their claim was illegal. They would not object if Danone agreed to do so, but they would also support Danone for not compensating the workers by their seniority. One worker said that they did not come for communication but kept questioning them. The staff of the Labour Department told them to raise legal and reasonable demand. One worker asked them immediately, “According to the labour law, overtime work should not exceed 36 hours every month and our overtime-working hours exceed 72 hours last month. Why didn’t you educate us at that time but tell us to obey to the law now?
From some frontline workers, we knew that in 2013 the situation of overtime work was very serious. Some worked continuously for 23 hours and the overtime working hour exceed 100 hours. All these were well recorded in workers’ receipt of wage payment. To avoid paying the extra 3 times wage on public holiday, they even asked workers to work after 12am the day after the public holiday.
One worker said, “I worked for Danone for 16 years and I am now in my forties. I worked so hard and have so many illnesses. Is it outrageous to demand Danone to compensate according to seniority?” As workers have to wear safety footwear with steel plate installed every day for a long time, many of them have hangnail, deformation of toes and osteoarthritis. They hope that Danone can consider their demand carefully, listen to them and not suppress them anymore.