by Inicjatywa Pracownicza (May 2012)
What do workers in the Chung Hong factory produce?
Kasia: We assemble all components of the main boards for TV-sets produced by LG.
Mateusz: We also do functional testing. We use Fuji machines and SMT technology (surface assembly). Using screen printing technology we put solder paste on bare laminate. The machine then arranges the components on the board and glues them. The whole part goes into the oven, we solder the components and we put all items that can not be mounted by the machine manually. At the end, a semi-manufactured product goes to functional testing.
What is your position at work?
Mateusz: I currently work as a senior technician. Before I started to work here at Chung Hong, me and Łukasz worked in England. That was a tough experience for us, that is why we decided to return to Poland a few years ago. In the factory, I monitor how machines are working and I detect errors so the production functions smoothly. I also check if there are any defects on the motherboards.
Kasia: Before this I worked illegally in Germany. I decided to return in order to get an official employment contract and to collect some money for my retirement. At Chung Hong I started as an operator, now I work as a quality controller. I check if our products meet the requirements demanded by the client.
Jola: I am employed as a senior operator. I put solder paste on the boards, and I assemble components. It’s hard work. I have to do it very carefully. If I make a mistake, I will be fired. In addition, we feel constant pressure to meet the extremely high standards.
How do people cope with such high quotas?
Mateusz: It’s hard to meet the standards set by the employer. He does not take into account that many factors influence the efficiency of the production. It is enough if materials are not delivered to the production line, or components are missing in the warehouse, or some machine has a defect, and then then quota cannot be reached.
Kasia: If you do not do the job on time, you need to come to work on your day off. But even if we meet the requirements, we do not receive any bonus, while the standards are raised.
Does the increased production affect the quality of products?
Łukasz: The rules in the factory are flexible. When production is increased, the quality becomes irrelevant, what matters then is quantity. The factory employs additional technicians who repair faulty products, but this is not enough to reach the best quality. In contrast, during low production periods we pay high attention the quality of the products.
Kasia: It happened that we stopped the production line because the products had defects. But a manager turned it back on, without worrying about the defects – it is essential to produce as much as possible.
Łukasz: The quality is also affected by the fact that in the time of increased production new workers are employed. They start working without any appropriate training. Last week, new person was employed on the position of quality control without any training. She was scared and did know at all what to do. I asked the production manager, how he could accept such situation, that the new employee did not receive any instructions? Only because I intervened, she went trough the training.
Why did you decide to set up a trade union?
Łukasz: What made us do that were deteriorating working conditions: the social fund was abolished; more and more workers were employed on temporary contracts or through temporary employment agencies; we have not been paid bonuses and the annual premium; our wage has not been raised for a long time. Some workers still earn less than minimum wage.
Kasia: Before, we did receive a 200 percent bonus for working on Sundays. Now overtime and work during holidays are compensated with days off that we get when production slows down. All other bonuses were canceled. At Easter, we were informed that we will receive only annual bonuses. At Christmas, they canceled that bonus as well, claiming that we should be grateful that this factory still exists. The fact that we are treated just like machines hurts us, too. Some time ago I was on sick-leave. The first day I got a message from the director that I should not be sick as that brings losses to the company. He told me to justify myself and immediately return to the factory. The director of Chung Hong constantly repeats that nothing is more important than coming to work.
Jola: In addition, the employer permanently reduces company expenses at the cost of workers’ health. In spring and summer, it happens that the temperature in the factory exceeds 33 degrees Celsius. People lose their consciousness. Air conditioners are not switched on to save electricity costs. Therefore, workers often shared their ideas on the need to set up a union. We had to take steps to increase our strength in relation to the employer.
What made you join Workers’ Initiative?
Łukasz: We first heard about Workers’ Initiative through leaflets distributed in the factory and in company buses by one of the female workers. In the dressing room we found posters of IP on the discrimination against temporary workers. It mobilized us such a way that we decided to put the idea of starting a union into practice. We gathered more information about Workers’ Initiative, and together we reached the consensus that we like the way that union is functioning.
Mateusz: First of all, we liked the non-hierarchical nature of IP and its uncompromising attitude, and the absence of bureaucratic structures which could restrict our activity.
Gosia: There are not many trade unions in factories located in the Special Economic Zones. Large trade unions are not interested in these work-sites because many of the workers here have temporary contracts. For us, it is important to support those employed by temporary employment agencies as well, because in that way we want to overcome the divisions between workers and improve our position in relation to the employer.
How did the employer react to the formation of the union?
Kasia: During the first months the employer did not recognize the fact that there is a union at Chung Hong. He did not respond to our letters, he did not provide us with regulations on work and wages, and on the social fund), he did not consult us on dismissals nor on amendments to work contracts. For half a year we demanded an information board. In the end we got it, but we were also given a contract to sign with a payment of 60 Złoty per month for it and the demand that we consult with the management on content we want to put up there.
Jola: Because the employer has made so many problems, other employees think that we do nothing. Some of them often come to me and ask when we will start fighting for a pay-rise. I answer that I would like to start right now, but over the past months we could not get the regulations on work and wages from our employer. So how can we make our demands more specific and formally articulate the union demands?
Mateusz: Moreover, we are constantly controlled and monitored by the management. Managers follow us like shadows, so we are not able to reach all workers and talk to them. After hours of work we return to different towns up to 100km apart from each other That makes it more difficult to organize a meeting outside the plant. From the beginning, a big problem has been the difficulties with the flow of information, and that makes our union activity more difficult as well.
Please describe the first phase of the union committee. What were your first postulates?
Łukasz: The beginning was not easy. It was hard for us to gather ten people to establish the committee legally. For the first meeting only five people came. When the committee finally began to function, people began to join, so we are now more than seventy members.
Mateusz: First of all, we wanted to find out why the social fund was liquidated. Immediately after founding the union we sent a letter to the employer asking for it, but only a few months later we received a response from him along with the fund rules. At present we are going to start a collective dispute to renegotiate it.
You have worked in the factory for many years. Can you say what methods workers use to cope with the severe working conditions?
Gosia: When I got hired by Chung Hong I worked on a visual stand, testing large components. However, I could not follow the speed of this task, so I simply shifted the components from the cart to the shelves. I did not check the quality of the products, as the production line was too fast for my physical capabilities.
Mateusz: The most common method used by employees is absenteeism. There are people who take a sick leave after every few days of working in the factory.
Kasia: It also happened that employees refused to work overtime. Recently, they wanted people to sign on an overtime schedule, but everyone boycotted it, no one signed in. Of course, the reaction of the boss came fast. He announced that there are special orders and forced us to do overtime. Currently we have to do 150 obligatory overtime hours per year.
What is the relationship between workers with permanent work contracts and those employed by temporary agencies?
Mateusz: Some time ago the majority of employees in Chung Hong factory received unlimited work contracts. However, when production slowed down, many of them were fired. The employer had to pay them compensation in accordance with the law on mass redundancies. Since that time, more and more workers are employed through temporary agencies. When production increases, more than half of the crew are employed by agencies. They work at most three months before being sacked. All temporary employees who wanted to join the union are no longer working here. We have no contact with them.
Łukasz: For a long time we wondered what to do to somehow support the temporary workers, but we have no idea. We do not know how to defend them. Recruitment through temporary agencies is a real tragedy.
Gosia: I was employed by an agency, and I felt a big gap between permanent and temporary workers. I learned that permanent staff does not wish to establish closer relations with those on temporary contracts. Getting involved with them does not make sense, because after two weeks they will be fired anyway.
What are your plans for your activity as unionists at Chung Hong?
Mateusz: We do not wait for miracles. We insist, however, that our wages and working conditions improve, and we want to be respected and treated with dignity. We’re going to stop the ongoing intimidation and humiliation of workers and the systematic violation of our rights.
Jola: Many times I wanted to shout at the employer, what I think about him and about work at Chung Hong. I wanted to tell him how working here destroys my life. I was ready to do it even at the cost of losing the job. Ultimately, however, I never dared to do so. Now we create a structure together that allows us to change the relationship between employers and employees. We intend to use it for a good purpose and we hope to be effective. However, if we are alone we will not make a big change. We need the support of other workers. We must act together, in solidarity. Only together we will change our situation.
See the article “We are no machines” – Workers’ Struggle in a Chinese Electronics Factory in Poland by friends of gongchao (March 2013)
Film about the strike:made by SzumTV (2013, 48 minutes, Polish with English subtitles)