Young Fast Optoelectronics (YFO), one of the biggest manufacturers of smart phone touch panel in the world, was recently accused by its trade union (YFOTU) of its exploitative working conditions and violation of labour law. According to the trade union blog, being a major supplier of the world's famous cell phone brands, such as HTC, Samsung and LG, YFO hires child labour and steals workers’ wage:
YFO calculate the overtime illegally and pay less overtime for several thousands NT dollars per month for every worker, so the workers in YFO work overtime for more than 100 hours and earn only roughly NT30,000 ($941) per month. YSO is also suspected to lower the amount of labor and health insurance and hire a large number of migrant workers and young workers under 16 in the name of “interns”.
Illegal Crack down of the trade union
On December 2009, workers in YFO decided to establish a trade union to protect their basic labour rights. However YFO sabotaged the union by dismissing 5 union cadres and 10 members:
YFO sabotaged the union by transferring a production line to China and dismissed 5 union cadres (2 executive board members, 2 board members, and 1 auditor) and more than 10 members altogether. It is a severe anti-worker, anti-union unfair labor practice…
The Union approached the Taiwan Labour Council regarding the brutal crackdown of the union in March, but YFO openly demanded the government to set back away from the case. Peopo, a citizen journalism website reported on March 17th:
Upon the YFO lay-off labors reported their case at the Labor Council (LOC) on 17th of March, the management of YFO told the LOC that ” (we) should not be too kind to the trade union. And if Taiwan Government has too much intervention, we would move our investment to China and other countries”.
Calling for corporate social responsibility
The union has no other choice but to give pressure to HTC, YFO's major client and Google's partner in the manufacturing of google phone, by protesting at HTC's launching party of its smart phone in early April. An open letter has been issued to HTC calling for the implementation of corporate social responsibility:
We went to the ground breaking ceremony of HTC’s new headquarters just because we can not talk to you in person and take our rights back. We urge you to follow the good examples set by some international brand names who respect their corporate responsibility by monitoring their suppliers…
As we have learned, HTC has just partnered with Google for new lines of mobile phones, and is facing the strong challenges from brands such as Apple, who had been trapped into serious controversies from their sweatshop suppliers but had learned a lesson later by setting up code of conduct for its suppliers and fulfilling its Corporate Social Responsibility by monitoring its suppliers and correct them when industrial disputes happened. We believe that if HTC and Google take YFO’s case as a lesson and set up due processes to cope up with the international standards regarding the protection of labor rights, consumers’ rights and the environment, it would be a great help for the social image of the corporations.
The trade union also launched an online sticker campaign to pressure HTC for a positive response – Say no to sweatshop technology, stop buying HTC:
Story from an union member
How does the sweatshop look like? A 53-year-old single family father and a union organizer tells his story:
I am ○○○, a member of Young Fast Optoelectronics Trade Union (YFOTU). I used to be an ordinary worker last year, and we have set up a union just a few months ago. It makes me understand that all I want is nothing big and far away.
我已經53歲了，在來到洋華之前，我換過幾個工作，最後來到洋華應徵的時候，公司告訴我：「我們這裡要配合廠商（如宏達電）的訂單季節，經常要加班趕單 喔！你可以配合嗎？」我二話不說馬上就答應了。為甚麼我願意配合加班？因為我是一個單親爸爸，那時候我的女兒才剛上高中，兩個兒子還在念國小，一個快五十 歲的失業中年人，能奢望什麼更好的條件？我是真的需要這份薪水。
I'm 53-year-old. Before joining Young Fast, I had several jobs. When I had my job interview in Young Fast, the interviewer asked me whether I could work overtime in the business season for dealers (such as HTC) I said yes without any hesitation, because I am a single father, my daughter just went to senior high school and my 2 sons still studied at elementary school. A 50 something jobless middle-age man, what can I ask for more? I am desperately longing for this salary.
… The official working days are set to be from Monday to Friday, but everyone knows that we have to work on weekends most of the time. When the company have big orders, each of us has only 3 day-off a month on average. And that is the truth.
…如果可以，我永遠都不會想去跟公司對立。我真的希望能在洋華好好做下去。每天我都戰戰兢兢，在工作上我不會犯一點錯誤，就是因為我是真心希 望能和公司一起打拼，把我的兒女好好養大。我要的並不多，我配合了公司要求的一切，我只希望公司能把該給的，最基本的、符合法律要求的報酬給我。然而，我 沒想到這麼單純的願望，竟然這麼曲折困難，….
…if possible, I would never stand up against the company. I do hope I can carry on my career in Young Fast. Every single day, I try to be very careful and avoid making any mistake. I want to give my best to Young Fast and raise my children. I am not greedy, for I have done everything I could to meet what they ask for. The only thing I hope for is they pay me what I have deserted by the law. However, such a simple wish is already too difficult to fulfill …
Due to increasing orders, Young Fast has expanded quickly, middle management still treat us as if we were in the army. Whenever our managers receive their superiors’ notice on meeting the target within the month, our weekend, holidays and leaves would be canceled and working hour delayed. We have to work over time.
In the past, we had 500NTD bonus (about 15.9 USD) a day for extra working hours on weekends. Without any holidays there would be 3 or 4 thousand NTD more, and there would be around NTD34,000 something per month… then, the rule changed, we had to work both on Saturday and Sunday and got only 500 NTD for our over time. At last, we had no bonus at all. If we don't go to work, they would threaten to dock our pay… In the end, we work 12 hours a day, and have to go to work on Sat and Sun, and we have only about 31,000 NTD per month…
Our canteen is always full of kids sitting around and watching TV on holidays. Is it because our company has better TV shows? Of course not. Because of over time work, single parent employees have to bring their children to the canteen and leave them alone to watch TV until they finish their work…
I hope that the managers would listen to our voice. When you are having good time in making big money from international corporate, you have almost lost all your workers. And that is because your managers have been forcing us to work over-hours and over the weekends. Whenever we made a slight mistake, we would be summoned and insulted. Our wages have been deducted without explanation as there isn't any system in management and wage calculation…
我不是刁民，我只是有太多的疑惑，我想問問還在廠內的同仁，難道你們沒有跟我一樣的疑惑：為甚麼不能用更人性化的方式管理？為甚麼加班費不 按照合法的計算方式給我們？為甚麼國定假日和颱風假，都不讓我們放假？為甚麼我們只是向上面反應說要求法律明 定的權益，就要被約談，接下來反應的人就會被調到清潔大隊、如果繼續反應，還會被資遣？
I am not a wayward worker. I just have too many questions that I'd like to ask my colleagues in YFO. Why they can't be more “humane” in their management? Why can't they follow the law in the calculation of our over-time work? How come we don't have days off on holidays and typhoon days? And when we ask for basic protection by the law, we would be summoned, shifted our job duty, and dismissed eventually?
Why is that human resource and management behave as if they haven't been trained, in particular on the Labor Standard Act? When they ask us to work, they do everything they could to intimidate us. When we brought the law book in front of their eyes and told them that it is illegal to reduce our overtime wage, they could still light-heartedly reply that everything is legal.
所以，我們工會剛成立時，根本沒有什麼激烈的動作還是抗議，一開始，我們只是溫和的向公司提出一些訴求，拜託公司能安排一些時間跟我們談 談，讓工會代表（幹部）能請公假，去服務其他辛苦工作的同仁，拿回一些他們被積欠的薪水和福利，我後來去翻書，才知道這都是工會法明文保障我們的權利，公 司如果不准假都是違法的。
When we formed our union, there wasn't any intense action or protest. At the beginning, we just presented our request to the company. We begged the authority to arrange a meeting with us, to allow our representative to have paid leave in order to help others to get their unpaid wages and benefits back. Later I found out all the demands were our lawful rights by the Acts of Union, it is against the law if the company doesn't grant us labour holiday.
…當主管知道我們成立工會的時候，氣得把那些帶頭的幹部約談，破口大罵我們這些技術員：「沒有資格組工會」，在他眼中，根本不覺得我們這些沒 學歷又沒地位的低層員工，有資格組織起來要求這些東西，更沒有資格擔任工會幹部。我很想問問大家，為什麼洋華的主管要那麼瞧不起我們現場技術員的人格和能 力？…
…When the managers knew that we formed the union, they were mad at the union leaders. They scolded at us, and said that we didn't have right to form the union. In his eyes, people from the grassroots without education don't have the right to form the union make demands, nor the quality to be union leaders. How can YFO despise blue collar workers like?…
I used to think those who took on street and fought for their rights had gone to far. Now I know I just want to be treated like a human.
…我不想對抗公司，也不想傷害任何人，說我們想把公司搞垮、害大家沒工作， 那是不可能的。…，我對這份工作只有最卑微的請求：請公司把我們當成「人」看。遵守法律最低的規定，讓我們休息，付我們足夠的薪水可以養 家，就只是這樣，就只是這樣，我要的就只是這樣。
I don't want to stand against the company nor harm anybody. We don't want to make the company bankrupt and make everyone lose their jobs. I only hope that the YFO could treat us like human, and allow us to enjoy labour holiday, pay us sufficient wage to raise our family, that's all, that's all, that's all I need…
Blogger 蟲鳴, who works for another union, points out that the workers have no bargaining power and hence HTC's attitude is determinative:
主要是，洋華的面版的主要客戶是 HTC，HTC對洋華的態度，可以決定洋華如何對待員工。然後今天洋華基本上就是吃定工會，兩次的勞資調解，洋華甚至於說出，不能對工會客氣這種話。基本 上，從內部進行，洋華工會對洋華基本上是沒有可以談的空間了，洋華現在對工會就是，誰當工會幹部，就把誰資遣。
The main customer of Young Fast Optoelectronics is HTC. HTC's attitude would affect how Young Fast treats their workers. Young Fast determines to eat its trade union alive. In the course of labour dispute resolution it insulted the workers and refused to make any change. There is no room for negotiation between the labour and the company. Young Fast would dismiss all the union leaders.
YFO trade union, unlike its conventional counterpart, is established as a reaction against the poor working condition. Its mission is to struggle for worker's right. Therefore the members of YFO trade union are all from the grassroots blue-collar workers, they don't have many chips to bargain. While Young Fast gains its competitive advantage by exploiting labors and becomes one of the important panel suppliers.
On the supplier chain, Young Fast provides touch panels for HTC with a bargain price. But all these touch panels are produced in highly exploitation sweatshops. Of course HTC does play a role in their suppliers’ mal-treatment of their workers.
If HTC doesn't impose code of conduct on Young Fast, it implies that HTC doesn't care if its products are ethical, in particular it doesn't care if they come from a sweatshop or not, as long as they are cheap and applicable.
Hsieh Chuang-chih (謝創智), the Taiwan Confederation of Trade Unions secretary-general in an interview with Liberal Times pointed out that the Economic Cooperation Framework Agreements (ECFA) signed between Taiwan and China government has encouraged more companies to invest in China and expand. On the other hand, more and more Taiwanese workers are either dismissed or suffered from wage deduction even though the companies are making huge profit. The YFO is among on of such cases.