Striking workers at Honda China supplier demand apology

FOSHAN, China, July 16 (Reuters) – Striking workers at a plant supplying parts to Honda Motors’ (7267.T) China operations have issued a long list of demands for returning to work, aiming to win better conditions commensurate with China’s rising economic clout.

Stoppages at foreign-run factories across China by workers demanding pay increases disrupted operations for several weeks in May and June, but the wave of unrest tapered off by the end of last month.

The latest strike began on Monday when the plant operated by Atsumitec Co tried to fire 90 workers demanding better pay and conditions.

They also asked Japanese management to apologise to Chinese workers for its conduct during the standoff, and to promise not to lay off any employees for the next two years.

The workers are also seeking an increase of about 500 yuan ($74) per month. Wages currently stand at about 980 yuan.

One worker said the two sides talked for about 20 minutes on Thursday, but that management failed to respond to their demands. No talks were set for Friday.

On Friday morning, roughly half of the 200-person workforce was milling about the grounds of the plant, which makes car gear sticks in the south China city of Foshan.

Three police cars were parked outside the plant at a distance monitoring the workers, but there were no signs of trouble.

“We had no choice (but) to strike,” one line manager told Reuters. “Otherwise 90 workers would be fired. That would be too miserable.”

Atsumitec informed Honda that some production had resumed at the plant on Thursday evening, a Honda spokesman in Japan said. He added that the strike had not impacted Honda’s China car-making operations.

A factory worker confirmed that some production had restarted after the company brought in outsiders to work. Meantime, the factory had ceased providing drinking water to strikers, he added.

The factory supplies parts to Dongfeng Honda, a tie-up with Dongfeng Motor Group Co (0489.HK) and Guangqi Honda, Honda’s joint venture with Guangzhou Automobile, a worker told Reuters.

TOLERANCE FROM BEIJING

The wave of labour unrest at foreign-fun companies hit a peak in June, but reports tapered off at the end of the month. The last reported stoppage, at Japanese-owned Tianjin Mitsumi Electric Co, ended on July 3.

Labour costs in China have been rising, partly encouraged by a government that wants to turn farmers and workers into more confident consumers, even as it tries to keep a lid on strikes.

Experts said Beijing — which fears social unrest — is likely to continue tolerating some level of strikes and other unauthorised worker action as a way to allow wages to rise and let workers vent steam over the issue.

Other signs have emerged that the government would like to see its lone officially sanctioned labour union, the All China Federation of Trade Unions (ACFTU), as well as local officials, take a more active role in helping to mediate between workers and employers, said Geoffrey Crothall of the China Labour Bulletin.

A recent article in the China Daily, China’s official English language newspaper, cited the ACFTU, often derided by workers as ineffective, as saying collective bargaining would give workers greater power in seeking higher wages and protecting their rights.

“The push seems to be for the official trade union to try and do more collective wage agreements in the factories. I think you’re going to see a big push for that in next six months,” said Crothall, who added that those agreements would probably yield pay increases of 10 to 20 percent at many factories.

“If those agreements go through by the end of the year and workers are still demanding more, then you might see the government starting to take a harder line (toward strikes). The argument being, ‘Look we’ve gone the extra mile for you, just be happy with what you’ve got and don’t rock the boat anymore.'”

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