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More than 1,000 workers riot

Posted by Author on July 30, 2006

China Labour Bulletin [CLB], 28 July 2006 Over 1,000 workers rioted over poor working conditions at a factory in Guangdong province which produces toys for McDonald’s and other firms, according to a New York-based labour rights group.

The incident began on 22 July when workers at the Hengli Factory in Dongguan City protested over meagre wages, the lack of public holidays and poor living conditions, the China Labor Watch (CLW) said. The protest began in the workers’ dormitories and evolved into a riot that stretched into Sunday, with more than 1,000 workers joining in.

It took more than 100 regular local policemen and those from the riot squads as well as factory guards to control the situation. Many people were injured and dozens of workers were arrested, according to CLW.

An official at the Hong Kong-based Merton Co Ltd, which owns the factory, said there had been an incident but refused to comment on the specific allegations.

According to CLW’s investigation, employees at the factory typically work 11 hours a day, six days a week, and rack up to 70 hours of overtime a month.

The factory deducts salary if workers refuse to work overtime and does not pay workers for taking national holidays, vacation days or sick leave, according to the group. Overtime is not paid at the rate of 1.5 times the regular rate as required by the law, it said. There is no base salary for workers, who are paid on a piece rate basis. Salaries range between 600 and 800 yuan (US$75 and US$100) per month. Workers told CLW that they must pay 250 yuan for food and accommodation each month, and complained that the factory’s meals were poor. Merton also failed to provide workers with adequate medical insurance or pensions.

According to workers who were interviewed, 50 percent of Merton’s products were manufactured for McDonald’s. Carol Chan, a senior consultant for McDonald’s public relations company Hill and Knowlton, told AFP the fast food giant did not have an immediate response, because its Hong Kong office had to check with its global headquarters. However, she confirmed that Merton did supply products to McDonald’s in Hong Kong and in other countries, and that the matter is being looked at. “The factory makes toys for McDonald’s restaurants, not just in Hong Kong, but also in other countries… McDonald’s is looking into this matter,” Chan said.

According to Merton’s website, the factory has 10,000 employees producing plastic toys. The company manufactures toys and give-away gift items for U.S. companies McDonald’s, Disney, Mattel, Warner and DC Comics, the website said.

Local police and the industrial park where the factory is located denied any knowledge of the incident.

Sources: China Labor Watch, Agence France-Presse (27 July 2006), Forbes.com (27 July 2006), XFN-ASIA (27 July 2006).

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