Han tells of growing discontent by workers

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 18 June, 1994, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 18 June, 1994, 12:00am

TENS of thousands of Chinese workers had taken to the streets in the past year to protest against exploitation, the increasing number of uncashable pay slips, and a widening pool of unemployed, China's most famous free trade unionist, Han Dongfang, told the International Labour Organisation (ILO) in Geneva.

Instead of improvements, Mr Han, who was exiled to Hong Kong after Beijing cancelled his Chinese passport, told the ILO mainland workers had become worse off in China's decade-old reform.

During the past year, the already simmering situation had even reached ''a boiling point'', the 30-year-old labour activist told his audience.

Mr Han pointed out that about 50 million workers, half of the total workforce in state enterprises, were on the verge of being unemployed.

Workers in rural factories faced the constant threat of industrial hazards, while more than 30 million migrant workers in foreign-funded factories were routinely exploited and official trade unions had failed to offer them protection, he said.

Social development has lost its balance, Mr Han pointed out, now that the Government adopted an open policy on economy but tightened its control politically.

''The cruel reality had pushed them to take to the streets, under risks, to air their discontent and protests,'' Mr Han said.

And a free trade union was the only answer to resolve social conflicts, he argued. ''It [free union] is a must, and a natural product in the course of history.'' ''A time-bomb is the end product when unions are under tight control and workers are besieged by poverty and helplessness, unable to bargain independently and autonomously,'' Mr Han said.

He called for support from the international community to China's free labour movement and attention on deteriorating labour rights abuses in China.

China should not be readmitted to the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade if Beijing failed to correct policies which infringed workers' rights, the activist said.

This was the second time Mr Han was invited to speak at the ILO. His appearance at the ILO conference last year was later cited by Beijing as an act against the Chinese Government and subsequently led to his enforced exile.

The official Chinese delegation to the ILO meeting expressed anger over Mr Han's reappearance this year, rejecting his accusations and insisting the labour situation in China was not as gloomy as he described.

They reiterated Beijing's official position that the rights of subsistence should take priority to other basic human rights such as freedom of speech and assembly.