Honda pressures interns not to join strike at factory
Minnie Chan in Foshan and Ivan Zhai
A key Honda component factory in Foshan paralysed by strikes for almost two weeks is putting pressure on its school interns, who make up more than half of its workforce, to sign a letter saying they will not take part in the action.
Some of the interns say teachers at their vocational studies schools have threatened to punish them if they refuse to sign.
And those who do sign will be given a monthly pay rise of more than 400 yuan (HK$450).
About 200 interns from Guangdong were bused to Tao Yuan Secondary School in Songguang Township in Foshan yesterday to sign the letter.
Interns from different provinces would be asked to sign today and all of them would need to submit their signed letters by tomorrow, some of them told the Sunday Morning Post.
The letter, which was distributed on Thursday, asks the interns to promise they will stay at Honda Auto Parts and not to get involved in any strike or they will be punished according to the mainland's labour law.
'They [Honda's management] aim to drive a wedge between workers and interns,' a 20-year-old full-time worker from Qingyuan city said, as he waited outside the school with several of his colleagues to see how many interns had signed.
Several full-time workers, aged between 19 and 20, gathered around the interns outside the school to see how many of them had signed.
One intern from Qingyuan Vocational Technical School said nearly 30 of his 40 classmates had signed the letter. 'But I didn't sign. Others did sign because they are scared,' said the intern, who refused to give his name. He said he had been warned by his headmaster that the strike had escalated into a political and international issue.
'He said the strike has badly affected our national image and has ruined ties between China and Japan,' he said. 'He also said that interns who refused to sign would not be given their graduate certificates and that those involved in social unrest would be sent to public security departments as punishment.'
When the full-time workers heard that most of Qingyuan interns had signed the letter, they started swearing at them. Other interns, however, said many had refused to sign the letter.
A full-time worker said: 'We will definitely dig our heels in until Honda promises to give us a collective pay raise of 800 to 1,000 yuan a month. We are young and fearless because we have no family or economic responsibilities. In fact, our parents support us in this strike.'
The Beijing-based Caijing magazine said the strike started on May 17 because workers were dissatisfied with their low salaries and the harsh working conditions. The report said the factory promised to give the more than 100 strikers an answer within a week, and they resumed work.
However on May 21 rumours circulated that any wage increase would be minimal and that the organisers of the first strike would be fired, sparking a second, larger strike which stopped production at the factory.
A spokeswoman for Honda said earlier that most of the factory's workers, with the exception of section heads and upper management, had taken part in the action.
The strike since May 22 has severely affected Honda, forcing four of its mainland car plants to suspend production. The Guangzhou-based business daily the 21st Century Business Herald quoted a mid-level manager of the component factory as saying that the loss by late last week could be as much as 300 million yuan (HK$342 million).
Honda Auto Parts could not be reached for comment yesterday.
Bob Yu, a former engineer at Guangqi Honda Automobile who left the company more than two years ago, said it was not the first time workers at Honda's component factories had gone on strike but that this action was the worst.
He said workers in two different component factories had stopped production for two days at Guangqi Honda in 2006 and 2007 in an attempt to get a pay rise.
'It is pretty common for labour-intensive enterprises to have to deal with such conflicts,' Yu said. 'But as far as I know, Honda is very experienced in dealing with this issue and I, and some other former colleagues at Guangqi, do not understand why the situation is getting worse and worse.'
Some of the mainland's Web portals started censoring reports about the strike, while a commentary by Xinhua said the strike showed that the old mindset of relying solely on cheap labour needed to change.
Prominent mainland scholars and activists, such as Ai Xiaoming , a Guangzhou-based professor, and Beifeng a Guangzhou-based internet analyst, Tweeted that the strike highlighted the need for labour unions and higher wages.
School interns who sign a letter saying they won't take part in strikes will be given a monthly pay rise of more than: 400 yuan