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A factory in China, Mingshuo Computers, has been investigated by China Labour Watch (CLW) following accusations that the company is mistreating workers. Mingshuo is a subsidiary of Pegatron Group, a supplier to major international electronic brand companies; including Dell, ASUS, HP, Samsung, and Microsoft. Pegatron has also recently come under fire from CLW following similar accusations at another factory supplying electronics to Apple.
According to the report, there are tens of thousands of job agencies, known locally as dispatch agencies, in the area around Mingshuo, Suzhou. Almost every agency in the area recruits workers for Pegatron, even though some are unlicensed by business or labour departments.
Pegatron and its subsidiaries employ tens of thousands of underage workers. On the production floor where the investigator worked, over one third are underage workers aged between 16 and 18. They are mostly hired through schools and recruiting agencies. In order to get into the factory, each young person must pay an agency fee of between RMB 100 and RMB 500 RMB (USD 16 and USD 82). The youngest of the workers had just reached the age of 16 before starting at the factory. Despite their age, they do the same work and hours as adult workers.
All of the workers interviewed by CLW mentioned that the working hours at Pegatron are too long and the rate of work is too intense. Workers’ shifts are 12 hours a day. They said that the trainer told them during training that they would start to work at 8:00 am every day. However, they are obligated to attend a meeting at 7.40am every morning and remain after 8.00pm for another 20 minute meeting, both of which are unpaid.
If the work position requires workers to be sitting, workers are not allowed to stand up. If the position requires workers to be standing, they must stand for the entire day. There is no break. If one wants to go to the bathroom or have some water, the worker needs to find a substitute and cannot leave without a permit. A worker cannot spend more than ten minutes in the bathroom or a verbal reprimand will be given by their group leader.
Workers who have been at the factory for a year have paid annual leave. But workers said in the interviews that the factory will not permit workers to take the annual leave if they apply for it themselves. Instead, the factory will decide if it will give workers extra days off during the Spring Festival period as annual leave.
Work discipline was repeatedly emphasized during training and each worker was required to sign a list of rules. The rules contain 11 warnings, 15 minor infractions, seven major infractions, and 15 punishments. Workers have to initial each item. Being 15 minutes late is recorded as an absence which is penalized by deducting one day’s salary. A major infraction costs a worker RMB 100 (USD 16.00) and a minor infraction RMB 30 (USD 4.90). Three infractions leads to termination. If a worker leaves without going through formal resignation channels, they will not be able to receive the wages owed them.
Interviewed workers stated that it was very difficult to resign. Group leaders and managers will not permit resignation. When asked by the investigator for a leave permit, they just refused under the pretext that dispatch night shift workers cannot get leave permits. Sometimes the supervisors will intentionally not recognize the presence of a worker during roll call, thereby forcing the worker to leave the factory. No wages will be paid in the case as is it viewed as self-resignation.
The primary concerns raised by the workers through interviews with CLW were:
1. The factory hires through dispatch agencies. The quality of the agencies vary and charge different fees making it very expensive. All of the workers interviewed hoped that the job/dispatch agencies would cease to exist one day and that the factory will only hire directly.
2. The working hours are too long and workers do not have enough time to sleep. The working style is rigid. You either keep standing or sitting, and there is no alternating between them. The work is tiring and there are no breaks.
3. The living conditions are poor. Workers do not have enough bathrooms and showers.
4. With no labour union or worker representatives, the factory provides a ‘Big Sister’ officer where workers can go with work-related problems. Workers think the “Big Sister” office is not as helpful as they had hoped. It is just a “mouthpiece”.
5. They have no place to go to if they are cheated by job/dispatch agencies. If workers complain officials refuse to investigate. Their legal rights are not protected.
6. The workers living in the Youth Dorm said that the dormitory arrangement is unfair. Workers living in the youth dormitory have to pay for the shuttle, while workers living in three other dorms do not. They hope the factory can treat all workers equally and stop charging them a shuttle fare. Also, riding the shuttle bus takes up so much time that workers are not able to get enough time to sleep.