Factory Stories: Some ‘big issues’ related to money

by Wan Jie (Factory Stories #6, November 2012)


It is a big issue, but only because it is related to money. When you migrate to work then earning money is the most important issue, and, therefore, whatever is related to money is a big issue.

The first thing is misreporting overtime. Everyone knows that a major part of the wage in the factory is overtime payments. Even for ordinary office and white collar workers it is that way. In our factory, the basic salary for technical staff is just a bit more than 2,000 yuan, so they will work overtime as much as possible. What is good in this factory is that the overtime payment is still calculated according to the labor law: usually the overtime payment is 1.5 times the normal wage, two times on weekends, and three times on public holidays. This year it happened that the Mid-Autumn Festival and the National Day fell on consecutive days, plus the weekends and you got eight days off. If someone worked all of those eight days overtime that would include four days with three times the normal wage (one day of the Mid-Autumn Festival and three days around the National Day) plus four days work with two times the normal wage. It might not be easy to go on a vacation, but to earn two or three times of the wage is even harder! In comparison to production line workers the office workers had one advantage. While shifts and overtime of production line workers are dictated, office workers can choose whether they want to do overtime voluntarily according to “work requirements.” So as soon as the long holidays around the National Day started, many people did “voluntary” overtime. According to company regulations, there must be a reason for overtime. However, a reason can always be found, so some people were scheming how to report overtime hours. They did not do any overtime that day but asked others to swipe their card for them. What is specific about the office is that there is a lot of intriguing against each other and everybody bears a grudge against everyone else. As a result, some people denounced others anonymously, provided a list of names and times, and the note: “If no steps will be taken in this matter the case will reported further to higher levels [of management].” In order to keep the management level in check, the company drew up a set of complex regulations. Since everyone uses their own names on internal mailboxes, any employee can directly mail to the company chairman or to that level of senior management, so once a violation is reported by someone, the related departments do not dare to simply cover it up.

The company regulation states that if someone swipes the card for someone else both people involved will be fired. So as a result in this case several people without “backing” were sacked; yet, two employees the boss thought rather highly of were “protected” and stayed. Later something similar happened in another department. Because of this affair the company specifically modified the employee handbook so that the fraudulent reporting of overtime had to be recorded as a major regulation breach. After all that was announced, other people were fiercely cursing: “These fucking bastards!” – “Ratting bastard shitheads; it was none of their fucking business, it’s not like they were the ones paying!” – “Bastards! The boss earns so much, what does it mean if someone cheats a bit with the overtime? Why would he care about this pocket money?” I don’t know what the denouncers felt when they heard their colleagues in the department cursing fiercely. In short, the white-collar workers in the office were terrified because of it. The enemies were right around you but you did not know who they were. That is to say, you had to be very careful with everyone around you – including all those who smiled at you every day –, and you had to make sure not to get caught.

The second thing is reducing the performance bonus. The performance bonus is, in fact, not very high. Even senior staff don’t get more than 400 yuan. However, sometimes the “bosses” (in the office it’s usually the highest managers of the department, and those above them who serve as “bosses”) when they’re very angry and really pissed off by their subordinates stomp their feet like crazy [threatening]: “If you don’t …, then the performance bonus will be cut …” That method sounds ridiculous, since many white collar workers are actually very ambitious and try to do their best, so cutting the performance bonus does not actually motivate them [unclear sentence]. Anyway, one time someone got serious and earnestly sent a reply by email saying: “I am against the reduction of the performance bonus!” Then he spread information about various ways on how to get work done, what is more other colleagues in the department were openly replying on the mailing list. That had never happened before. Other people were really surprised, and after this they used every possible way to show their support for this kind of action and felt like they were “finally able to vent some steam.” Afterwards the bosses did not mention it anymore. This person’s direct superior went to see him in private and said in a friendly way: “When the managers talked about cutting the performance bonus they were not serious. They did not really intend to reduce it. You shouldn’t worry.” Of course, he knew the performance bonus might not be reduced but after people had voiced their discontent the bosses were also aware that colleagues were not happy about this, and you could reckon that after this they would be careful using this tactic.

There was another instance around the performance issue. The office worker Xiao Li went to another department to get a signature under a document. That meant bothering a person in the other department. When the female office worker there saw it she immediately made a long face and said something like: “Whenever you guys take a shit you call us to wipe your ass!” Xiao Li was taken aback: ”When have I asked you to wipe my ass!?” The woman did not let go and said once more that it was necessary to report to human resources so they would reduce the performance bonus. Then she called someone – it was not clear who – and asked that person in front of Xiao Li’s face: “Shall we report directly to human resources, or will your department report to human resources?” Xiao Li felt really sick seeing all this. She was an employee of the same level. The woman’s bullshitting as if she was in a position of power, made you want to puke. After that it was not clear what the guy on the phone had said and the issue of reducing the performance bonus was just dropped.

The third issue was service subsidy. Those two months were part of our company’s peak season, and the technician Xiao Wang was always extremely busy. Often he had to do overtime until 11 p.m. or midnight, and usually he had to work seven days a week. According to company rules, every department can, in accordance with the company’s sales and profits, apply for a certain amount of service subsidy that can be used to pay the employees in that department as a bonus. However, in those two months everyone might have been too busy, and even the higher managers forgot about that issue. Some people went to see the department head who did not take responsibility and passed it on, so this did not go anywhere. Then the project manager Xiao Qiang really couldn’t put up with it any longer. So he went to report it to the highest senior managers. Those managers suddenly realized what was going on and immediately signed off on the calculation of Xiao Wang’s service subsidy for that month. When the wage slip arrived at the end of the month, Xiao Qiang smugly asked Xiao Wang from behind: “Well well, is it that much?” Then he gestured a mysterious V sign with his fingers. Xiao Wang nodded and then slapped Xiao Qiang on the shoulder: “You’re a very reliable kid, bro!” Afterwards Xiao Wang worked especially hard for a while, and notably when working for that loyal project manager Xiao Qiang he rushed to finish his tasks.

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