Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Labor conditions worsen in China

From the NY Times:

DONGGUAN, China — Liu Pan, a 17-year-old factory worker, was crushed to death last April when the machine he was operating malfunctioned.

Somehow Mr. Liu became stuck in the machine, his sister Liu Yan recalled during a tearful interview in a village near the factory.

“When we got his body, his whole head was crushed,” Ms. Liu said. “We couldn’t even see his eyes.”

Investigating the accident, inspectors found a series of labor and safety violations at the factory, Yiuwah Stationery, which supplies cards, gift boxes and other paper goods to Disney, the British supermarket chain Tesco and other companies.

While the accident at the Yiuwah factory was particularly tragic, working conditions elsewhere are worsening. A year and a half after a landmark labor law took effect in China, experts say conditions have actually deteriorated in southern China’s export-oriented factories, which produce many of America’s less expensive retail goods.

With China’s exports reeling and unemployment rising because of the global slowdown, there is growing evidence that factories are ignoring or evading the new law, and that the government is reluctant to enforce it.

Government critics say authorities fear that a crackdown on violators could lead to mass layoffs and even social unrest...

Because of the downturn, 20 million migrant workers have already lost their jobs, Beijing says. The government recently put rules in place restricting factories from making large-scale layoffs without giving the government notice...

Experts say cheating workers on wages, forcing them to log up to 200 hours of overtime a month and denying them health benefits is commonplace in China.

Many factories are violating not just the new contract labor law, but also a 1994 law, which covered a broader set of labor and wage practices, they said.

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