Taiwanese electronics trade union continues to face challenges

Oct 14, 2010
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Young Fast Optoelectronics (YFO), a Taiwanese touch-screen manufacturer producing for among others Samsung, LG and HTC, is under heavy criticism from the YFO Trade Union (YFOTU). In April 2010, the trade union reported about sweatshop-like working conditions at YFO plants in Taiwan. Recent information by YFOTU points at a number of outstanding labour issues, and the disturbed relation between management and the union. According to the trade union management undertook no substantial steps towards improving the working conditions. At the same time, the union reports about ongoing attempts by the management to bust the young union. Business-wise YFO is doing well; reportedly, HTC is increasing its orders, Nokia will start sourcing from YFO in the fourth quarter of 2010; Acer and Asus will have tablet PCs produced from 2011.

Young Fast Optoelectronics (YFO), a Taiwanese touch-screen manufacturer producing for among others Samsung, LG and HTC, is under heavy criticism from the YFO Trade Union (YFOTU). In April 2010, the trade union reported about sweatshop-like working conditions at YFO plants in Taiwan. Recent information by YFOTU points at a number of outstanding labour issues, and the disturbed relation between management and the union. According to the trade union management undertook no substantial steps towards improving the working conditions. At the same time, the union reports about ongoing attempts by the management to bust the young union. Business-wise YFO is doing well; reportedly, HTC is increasing its orders, Nokia will start sourcing from YFO in the fourth quarter of 2010; Acer and Asus will have tablet PCs produced from 2011. 

After the exposure of the abuse of interns at YFO in April 2010, most of the youngsters concerned were sent back. However, YFO is still employing interns, and working conditions have not improved, according to the trade union. Young people are now hired for 'summer internships', but the trade union fears that they may be silently kept on after summer is over.

YFOTU complained and petitioned YFO about the lack of overtime payment. Workers were entitled to amounts ranging from NT$ 30,000 to 250,000. According to Taiwanese labour law, local workers with a regular contract can claim overdue overtime payment within 5 years (the legal time frame for claiming overdue salary in Taiwan). Under pressure of the union, YFO eventually made over all the due overtime payment. Migrant workers, however, are less well protected by the law. The maximum they can claim is NT$300 per month, regardless of actually worked overtime. Interns are even worse off, they can not claim anything.

At the moment business is going well, orders are picking up, and there is quite some overtime to be done. According to the trade union, however, allocation of overtime seems to be part of a divide and rule management methodology. Generally speaking, Taiwanese workers get to do less overtime, while migrant workers are allowed to do overtime as they chose. YFOTU interprets this as a sort of punitive measure, meant to impress upon local workers to stay clear from trade union activities. The union stresses that loss of overtime payment significantly reduces the workers´pay. The basic pay only amounts to NT$20,000 (approx. EUR465), which is far below a living wage.


Over the past year, YFO has been diversifying its source of labourers. Besides regular local workers - about 25% only!-  YFO’s labour force increasingly consists of interns and migrant workers, including workers from Vietnam and Mainland China. YFOTU is criticising this practice as being motivated by cutting labour costs. Moreover, YFOTU is of the opinion that the company is deliberately diversifying the workers population as to undermine solidarity among the workers and to prevent workers taking collective action. 

YFO still fails to provide adequate safety instructions concerning the handling of chemical solvents used in the factory. This despite workers having filed a series of complaints about this issue. Most of the complaints regard a lack of occupational health and safety education on the chemical solutions workers have to use in the workplace. Besides, a lack of clear notice of the types of chemical solutions on the factory floor also worries the workers.

Some examples of YFO’s union busting actions, as provided by YFOTU:

  • In March 2010, five union leaders and ten union members were sacked, allegedly on false grounds. As YFO refused to allow them to come back to work, the local labour bureau undertook a mediation effort in August. As a result, YFO agreed on the reinstatement of one of the fired union leaders. The woman, however, was assigned a new job, in a solitary position without any co-workers. The trade union interpreted this move as an attempt to frustrate the organising activities of this union leader. Reportedly, YFO has been trying to convince her as well as another union activist to leave YFO, by offering them money.
  • In March 2010, five union leaders and ten union members were sacked, allegedly on false grounds. As YFO refused to allow them to come back to work, the local labour bureau undertook a mediation effort in August. As a result, YFO agreed on the reinstatement of one of the fired union leaders. The woman, however, was assigned a new job, in a solitary position without any co-workers. The trade union interpreted this move as an attempt to frustrate the organising activities of this union leader. Reportedly, YFO has been trying to convince her as well as another union activist to leave YFO, by offering them moneyhe management set up a fake union website to falsify information and confuse the workers.
  • Between March and May 2010, the management pressed about 150 hand-picked workers to join the union recently. Among them were mainly mid-level and lower-level employees or white collar office workers. In the meantime when the union was deciding over the provisioning of membership applications, which is the legal right, YFO immediately filed a report to the government claiming that the union refused applications.
  • The management refused paid-leaves for the YFOTU officers, so that they are considered absent if attending union meetings.
  • In October 2010, the management instructed YFO workers to set up another union besides the existing one. YFOTU believes that the management intends to have a pro-company union established in order to oppress the current YFOTU.


Between May and August 2010, YFOTU tried to make contact with YFO’s buyers, including HTC and Samsung. YFOTU also updates HTC’s response to their appeal. HTC officially claimed in July that it met with workers of its suppliers, expressed concerns to the suppliers, monitored the suppliers in accordance with HTC code of conduct. YFOTU disputed HTC that these are more said than done. Meanwhile, YFOTU has not heard from Samsung.


GoodElectronics supports YFOTU in its efforts to bring about improvements at the YFO work floor, and to end the abuse of interns. Companies, buyers as well as suppliers, should pay more than lip service to freedom of association – this should actively be defended. GoodElectronics has written to the known customers of YFO, calling upon them to use their good offices to address the outstanding labour issues and to bring about a mature industrial relation with the YFO Trade Union.

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