Hundreds of migrant workers at the lingerie maker Top Form International Holdings have returned to work at the company's plant in Shenzhen, in the latest high-profile labour dispute in the industrialised Pearl River Delta.
The company's chairman, Willie Fung Wai-yiu, told the South China Morning Post yesterday that a verbal dispute between a Hong Kong female production manager and a migrant worker sparked a row on Wednesday last week which swiftly developed into a strike involving two-thirds of the 800 workers.
After negotiations and a cash offer, more than 90 per cent of the 500 workers on strike returned to the production floor yesterday and about 30 more were expected to come to work soon, he said. Fung said that three of the workers deemed 'trouble-makers' were laid off.
'Labour issues are explosive,' Fung said. 'We will review communication with workers.'
The Top Form dispute came after a strike of more than 2,000 workers at the sports shoe factory Pou Chen in Dongguan last week against the sacking of middle managers and the suspension of overtime, which effectively cut workers' wages. The Taiwanese-owned factory produces Nike and Adidas sports shoes.
Top Form, one of the world's largest brassiere exporters, runs factories in Shenzhen special economic zone, Guangdong province, Jiangxi province, Thailand and Cambodia.
Fung said the Shenzhen strike was not related to any cuts in wages or welfare policy, but migrant workers were demanding an apology from the production manager and complaining that they were forced to work extra shifts without pay.
Conceding that the production manager had verbally abused a migrant worker, Fung said the manager had resigned. However, he rejected workers' allegations of forced shifts and a lack of compensation, saying frontline sewing workers on average earned more than 3,000 yuan (HK$3,675). The industry average is 2,500 yuan for a sewing worker.
Geoffrey Crothall, a spokesman for the labour rights group China Labour Bulletin, said the global economic downturn had sparked worker concern about job security and workers were taking pre-emptive action if their jobs were under threat.
He said he was not surprised to see more industrial action as factories tightened their belts because of a chain reaction from weakened demand in China's top export markets, the United States and the European Union.