Taiwanese electronics workers fight for their rights

Touch screen manufacturing workers are fighting for basic rights at Young Fast Optoelectronics (YFO) in Taiwan, a company that supplies to Samsung, LG, HTC and Google. YFO manufactured mobile phones are sold by telecom providers such as Vodafone, Verizon, Chunghwa Telecom and Taiwan Mobile. An international campaign is picking up, addressing YFO and its buyers and calling for labour laws and genuine CSR.

Taiwanese electronics workers fight for their rights

Touch screen manufacturing workers are fighting for basic rights at Young Fast Optoelectronics in Taiwan, a company that supplies to Samsung, LG, HTC and Google.

Young Fast Optoelectronics (YFO or Young Fast) sacked five union leaders and ten union members in March 2010 after the newly-established union raised complaints about rampant illegalities at the company where workers endure sweatshop conditions.

Despite posting a record-high profit last year working conditions for the 1,300 workers at YFO Taoyuan Plant are extremely poor. Aside from low wages, high work intensity, forced overtime without pay, and poor health and safety conditions, YFO also hired 200 migrant workers and 400 high school "interns" (some of them are below the age of 16, which is the legal criteria of child labour in Taiwan) and pay them less than the legal minimum wage.

The workers organized a trade union, the Young Fast Optoelectronics Trade Union (YFOTU), in December 2009 to address the problems. The management promptly dismissed five union officers and more than ten active union members in March 2010, claiming their production line will be moved to China. Trade unionists in Taiwan believe that this is a deliberate union-busting action and gross violation of the Labour Union Law in Taiwan.

YFOTU gives details of the exploitative working conditions and union-busting actions by Young Fast in a detailed fact sheet.

YFOTU and National Federation of Independent Trade Unions (NAFITU), which YFOTU is affiliated with, are waging a campaign since the illegal dismissal demanding:

  • Reinstatement of the illegally-dismissed union officers and members;

  • Resolution to the labour dispute through dialogue with YFOTU and NAFITU; and

  • The government forms a joint-committee from different ministries and take thorough investigation about the working conditions and labour rights abuses, and prevent repetition of labour rights abuse in YFO.

 

YFO is a Taiwan-based producer of touch-sensor used on high-end mobile phones. It is a major supplier to brand names such as Samsung, LG, HTC, Qualcomm and so on. Google is to become the major buyer of YFO products through subcontracting the manufacturing of Google Phone to HTC and Qualcomm. YFO has three plants in Guangdong, China, one in Hanoi, Vietnam, and one in Tao-Yuan, Taiwan, and a combined workforce of more than 10,000.

YFOTU stresses that YFO’s buyers in their turn engage in commercial cooperation with many well-known telecom corporations. HTC’s mobile phones for example are sold by, Vodafone, Verifone, Chunghwa Telecom, Taiwan Mobile, etc. Such mobile phone providers also bear responsibility towards the labour conditions at YFO, argues YFOTU.

 

YFOTU and Nafitu have undertaken several steps to address the situation. Among other things, they have asked the government to intervene and investigate the reported workers’ rights violations.  YFOTU and Nafitu have applied for labour dispute settlement regarding the overtime wages and the illegal dismissal for their members at the local labour administration. A number of dispute resolution meetings took place, but according to Nafitu and YFOTU without success as YFO failed to promise to abide by the law.

Moreover, YFOTU and Nafitu reported the alleged rights abuses to the Council of Labour Affairs (CLA), that is the Taiwanese Labour Ministry, and the Ministry of Education, including excessive overtime, deduction on overtime wages, and the use of under-age labour. THe CLA subsequently confirmed that YFO had illegally employed workres under  the age of 16 to work long hours. The Labour Standards Act prohibits cooeration programme students under the age of 16 working more than eight hours a day. The union alleged that Young Fast ordered its underaged workers to be on duty for as long as 12 hours each day. Nafitu said that to avoid being investigated, Young Fast called an emergency meeting to terminate its contracts with more than 300 students who had been forced to work overtime. Further, the quota for migrant workers allowed to work at Young Fast were frozen. The CLA labour officials have handed the case over to county prosecutors for further investigation. In April 2010, the Taipei Times also reported about this issue. Click here for full article.

YFOTU and Nafitu and called upon the participants to the 2nd APEC Business Advisory Council (ABAC) meeting that took place from 17-21 May in Taipei, demanding that companies take their corporate social responsibility seriously and actively contribute to eradicate sweat shop conditions in the electronics sector. The ABAC, entitled “Working towards sustainable growth for all”, hosted a conference by Cher Wang of HTC, one of YFO’s major customers. Under the slogan “People before profit”, Nafitu and YFOTU have called upon companies to:

  • Set up code of conducts for corporations and suppliers, obey labour laws in each country, and to fulfil their corporate social responsibility;

  • Respect the monitoring role of trade unions as a tool towards improving working condition and realising sustainable growth. See full press release.

 

The International Metalworkers’ Federation (IMF) supports the workers and their union. The IMF urges its affiliates to sign on to the workers' campaign. The IMF has sent a letter to the Taiwanese government urging them to immediately investigate and remedy the rights of the workers and their union and calls on its affiliates to also lend their support by signing onto the LabourStart campaign here. Click here for the article at the IMF website. .

 

Trade Union website LabourStart is also actively supporting the campaign by YFOTU and Nafitu. An on-line petition was established. So far about 4,000 people have expressed their support.

 

On the YFOTU blogsite, an open letter by a 53 year old YFO operator is published. “Please treat us a human beings", he writes. "If I could, I’d never confront my company. I really hope to work peacefully in YFO. I pay attention on my work everyday not to make any mistakes, because I want to co-operate with the company and bring up my children. I don’t want too much: I do everything YFO demands, I just hope YFO can give me the basic payments regulated by the law.

We worked around the clock for the company, but what did we get in return? The company's stock price skyrocketed last year, all supervisors, administrators and engineers got a decent bonus; but for us factory workers, we only get a wee bit of year-end bonus. I wonder why all the glory always goes to the top tier of the company, while the workers at the bottom, who sacrificed our health and our time with the family, are always maltreated and ignored?" Read full letter here.

 

So far, the responses from the buyers to the allegations by YFOTU and Nafitu are far from satisfactory. So far only HTC has stated that "it has nothing to do with YFO workers and that the latter were hired by a supplier of one of its suppliers." Peter Chou, the CEO of HTC further stated that HTC "would not intervene in the inner management of other companies." See the YFOTU fact sheet.