US embassy cable - 06HONGKONG1251

DRL OFFICER RANA SIU'S VISIT TO HONG KONG: LABOR ISSUES (PART 1 OF 2)

Identifier: 06HONGKONG1251
Wikileaks: View 06HONGKONG1251 at Wikileaks.org
Origin: Consulate Hong Kong
Created: 2006-03-24 09:15:00
Classification: CONFIDENTIAL
Tags: PGOV PREL HK CH PINR PHUM ELAB
Redacted: This cable was not redacted by Wikileaks.
VZCZCXRO0338
PP RUEHCN
DE RUEHHK #1251/01 0830915
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
P 240915Z MAR 06
FM AMCONSUL HONG KONG
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 5717
INFO RUEHOO/CHINA POSTS COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RUEHC/DEPT OF LABOR WASHDC PRIORITY
RHEHNSC/NSC WASHDC PRIORITY
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 04 HONG KONG 001251 
 
SIPDIS 
 
SIPDIS 
 
DEPT FOR EAP AND EAP/CM 
NSC FOR DENNIS WILDER 
 
E.O. 12958: DECL: 03/24/2031 
TAGS: PGOV, PREL, HK, CH, PINR, PHUM, ELAB 
SUBJECT: DRL OFFICER RANA SIU'S VISIT TO HONG KONG: LABOR 
ISSUES (PART 1 OF 2) 
 
REF: A. 05 BEIJING 01712 
     B. 04 HONG KONG 06604 
 
Classified By: E/P Chief Simon Schuchat. Reasons: 1.4(b,d). 
 
1. (C) Summary: During a March 13-16 visit to Hong Kong, DRL 
Foreign Affairs Officer Rana Siu discussed labor issues with 
local NGOs and a mainland-based labor lawyer.  Han Dongfang, 
Director of "China Labour Bulletin (CLB)," said that mainland 
local authorities have warned the families of industrial 
accident victims to refuse assistance from activist lawyer 
Gao Zhisheng.  Elizabeth Tang, Chief Executive of the Hong 
Kong Confederation of Trade Unions (HKCTU), said that in 
2004, local newspapers published an article listing all of 
the Hong Kong NGOs that had received grants from the National 
Endowment for Democracy.  Fortunately, however, "no one was 
interested in these stories," said Tang.  Labor lawyer Zhou 
Litai requested additional funding from the USG for various 
legal projects.  Monina Wong, Director of Labour Action China 
(LAC), discussed LAC's campaign to assist mainland gemstone 
workers who have contracted silicosis.  CLB, HKCTU, and LAC 
all reported difficulties working with their U.S.-based 
partner, the American Center for International Labor 
Solidarity (ACILS).  This is the first of two cables 
reporting Siu's meetings in Hong Kong.  End Summary. 
 
"China Labour Bulletin": Gao Zhisheng 
------------------------------------- 
 
2. (C) On March 14, DRL Foreign Affairs Officer Rana Siu 
discussed labor issues with "China Labour Bulletin" (CLB) 
Director Han Dongfang and Research and Communications 
Director Robin Munro.  Beginning in 2003, CLB has provided 
legal assistance to selected mainland workers and their 
families affected by industrial accidents through its Case 
Intervention Program, explained Munro.  One of the first 
mainland lawyers hired by CLB was Gao Zhisheng (ref A), who 
was asked to defend workers involved in a Dongguan shoe 
factory protest in the fall of 2004.  Munro said Gao did a 
"masterful" job presenting the workers' cases and that all 
ten defendants were eventually released.  In October 2004, 
CLB hired Gao to represent textile factory workers on strike 
in Shaanxi province.  At the time, he was prevented from 
meeting with the workers and detained by local police for 
four days (ref B). 
 
3. (C) Over the past year, it had become increasingly clear 
to CLB, said Han, that Gao had become more outspoken and had 
taken on politically risky cases, including Falun Gong abuse 
cases.  In October 2005, Gao published an open letter to 
President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao criticizing the 
abuse of Falun Gong adherents.  Although Gao is not a member 
of the Falun Gong, he has also published several articles in 
the Falun Gong-owned newspaper, "The Epoch Times."  Worried 
that Gao might be detained for his close ties with the Falun 
Gong, Han said that CLB had even tried to keep the lawyer so 
busy with their labor cases last year that he would have no 
time to take on Falun Gong cases.  Despite their efforts, the 
authorities shut down Gao's law firm and revoked his law 
license.  Nonetheless, Gao told CLB that he was willing to 
work as a consultant on a case involving a coal-mining 
incident in Shaanxi province in November 2005.  Gao initially 
made contact with 40 victims' families; soon after, however, 
each of the 40 families separately contacted Gao and declined 
his offer of assistance.  Han contended that local 
authorities warned each of the families to refuse Gao's 
assistance and likely told them that the lawyer was connected 
to the Falun Gong.  Most of these families were scared off, 
said Munro, and were now somewhat suspicious of CLB's 
motives.  Due to the negative publicity surrounding Gao, 
Munro and Han said that they were trying to distance CLB from 
the lawyer. 
 
4. (C) Due to the Case Intervention Program's success in 
winning compensation for workers and raising the profile of 
labor issues, the CLB now would like to negotiate an annual 
retainer with a mainland law firm, said Munro.  At present, 
each time CLB finds an appropriate case, the NGO has to 
approach an individual lawyer and explain CLB's mission and 
background.  An annual retainer would resolve some of these 
logistical issues and would formalize a relationship between 
CLB and a single law firm.  Separately, Munro and Han said 
that they have had problems communicating and working with 
their U.S.-based partner, the American Center for 
International Labor Solidarity (ACILS).  Over the past year, 
Munro said that ACILS had made several abrupt and 
unreasonable requests to CLB regarding documentation of 
 
HONG KONG 00001251  002 OF 004 
 
 
projects funded by the Human Rights Democracy Fund (HRDF) and 
did not pass on information in a timely manner regarding the 
HRDF's call for statements of interest.  At one point, ACILS 
suggested to CLB that they apply for future grants with the 
American Federation of Teachers.  Instead, CLB has decided to 
apply for 501(c)(3) (non-profit) status in the U.S. and will 
likely apply for a HRDF grant directly. 
 
"China Labour Bulletin": Compensation for Workers 
--------------------------------------------- ---- 
 
5. (C) CLB has also worked on assisting workers and their 
families affected by the November 27, 2005 mine explosion in 
Heilongjiang that killed 171 miners.  During one of his 
programs on "Radio Free Asia," Han discovered that 
immediately after the explosion, the local authorities 
contacted all of the victims' families, asked them to come to 
their offices, showed them the body of their family member 
and asked them to sign compensation papers.  Family members 
told Han that they were so distraught during this meeting, 
that they signed the documents without carefully considering 
the legal and financial implications.  The victims' families 
were told that if they immediately signed the documents, they 
would be paid 200,000 renminbi (USD 25,000) for civil and 
social compensation, plus a 10,000 renminbi (USD 1,250) 
"bonus."  Nearly all of the families signed the agreements 
presented by officials from the Qitaihe branch of the Longmei 
Mining Co., Ltd.  One family member told Han that she "lost 
her mind" when confronted with the body of her relative and 
the compensation documents; Han described this tactic as 
"disgusting."  Victims' families were further incensed when, 
during a particularly cold winter in Heilongjiang (almost 30 
degrees Celsius below zero), they were refused additional 
heating fuel from the mining company.  The company reminded 
families that they had already received all of their 
compensation. 
 
6. (C) Recognizing an opportunity for case intervention work, 
Han asked several families if they were interested in suing 
for employer negligence.  Many of the families told Han that 
they were scared to participate in litigation against the 
company, especially since many of them had no plans to move 
to another town.  However, the widow of one of the mining 
victims was willing to file suit against the company and had 
already moved to another city.  If one of the victims of an 
industrial accident or their family member were to win a 
negligence case and won significant financial compensation in 
the range of a half a million renminbi (USD 62,500), said 
Han, then this court victory could become a real incentive 
for other workers to seek civil compensation for work-related 
injuries and death. 
 
7. (C) CLB had limited resources, said Munro, and the NGO had 
to select its intervention cases carefully.  CLB wanted to 
maximize the amount of compensation and publicity of a court 
win.  For example, the mine explosion in Heilongjiang was an 
ideal case because the mining company is a state owned 
enterprise (SOE).  If a victim sued a private mining company, 
the company could easily declare bankruptcy and never have to 
pay civil compensation; an SOE, on the other hand, was more 
likely to pay.  When asked about the sensitivity of their 
litigation work in the mainland, Han said that, 
theoretically, the central government stood to gain from 
CLB's advocacy of public interest litigation.  Especially in 
relation to mining safety, local authorities appeared to 
routinely ignore directives from the central government.  A 
successful lawsuit would not only provide a template for 
future lawsuits and generate publicity about industrial 
accidents and civil compensation, argued Han, but it would 
also serve as a deterrent and warning to local authorities 
and mining companies. 
 
8. (C) Separately, CLB is working with lawyers from Beijing 
University who are considering filing an environmental public 
interest suit in relation to the benzene leak into the 
Songhua River in Harbin.  CLB is also working on the 
development of a code of conduct to be signed between workers 
and employers, which could become an alternative to a 
corporate social responsibility (CSR) agreement.  A CSR 
agreement does not work, said Munro, because it is only an 
ethical agreement; instead, CLB advocates a collective labor 
contract between workers and company.  If the code of conduct 
were violated, the workers could then go to court and sue for 
contract violation.  CLB is currently in the process of 
pitching this idea to various multinational corporations 
operating in China. 
 
 
HONG KONG 00001251  003 OF 004 
 
 
Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions 
--------------------------------------- 
 
9. (C) On March 15, Elizabeth Tang, Chief Executive of the 
Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions (HKCTU), said that 
her organization had arranged seven conferences or seminars 
during the World Trade Organization's (WTO) Sixth Ministerial 
Conference in Hong Kong last December.  With the arrival of 
so many activists to Hong Kong, HKCTU capitalized on the WTO 
event to educate the public on the impact of WTO on Hong 
Kong.  Tang also noted that Hong Kong activists appear to 
have studied the tactics used by anti-globalization 
protestors.  Imitating a protest conducted by South Korean 
farmers during the WTO, four poultry traders (all wearing 
life jackets) jumped into the Hong Kong harbor on May 14 to 
protest a government plan to restrict the number of chickens 
on Hong Kong's farms. 
 
10. (C) Conducting program work in China was sensitive, 
contended Tang, so the HKCTU had passed along a mainland 
labor rights project to a local partner, the International 
Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU).  Tang said that 
this move was necessary to deflect negative attention from 
HKCTU's Hong Kong programs.  Separately, Tang said that 
around the time of the September 2004 Legislative Council 
elections, local newspapers published an article listing all 
of the Hong Kong NGOs which had received grants from the 
National Endowment for Democracy.  Fortunately, however, "no 
one was interested in these stories," said Tang. 
 
11. (C) Tang added that over the past year, HKCTU had 
encountered some difficulties working with ACILS, their only 
U.S. partner.  ACILS staff, complained Tang, had unilaterally 
changed documentation requirements several times over the 
past year.  Moreover, it now took between six months to a 
year to be reimbursed, ultimately affecting HKCTU's cash 
flow.  HKCTU had "no confidence to implement activities" 
because they were concerned that ACILS might not reimburse 
their projects, said Tang.  As a result, HKCTU had placed 
some labor projects on hold. 
 
Zhou Litai: Need Additional Funding 
----------------------------------- 
 
12. (C) On May 15, Zhou Litai, a labor lawyer with offices in 
Chongqing and Shenzhen, requested additional funding from the 
USG.  Zhou explained that his law firm had taken on too many 
cases from other provinces, incurring high travel costs for 
his law firm.  Additional funding would help cover these 
costs as well as enable Zhou to write a report analyzing the 
6,000 plus labor cases that his firm has worked on.  Zhou 
assured that such a report would be extremely useful to 
understanding mainland labor issues.  Increased funding would 
also help develop his project to train lawyers in other 
provinces on the proper procedures involved in litigating 
worker injury cases. 
 
Labour Action China 
------------------- 
 
13. (C) In June 2005, Labour Action China (LAC) formally 
split from the Hong Kong Christian Industrial Committee 
(HKCIC) and registered as a separate NGO under the society 
ordinance in Hong Kong, explained LAC Director Monina Wong. 
HKCIC will continue to work on labor issues in Hong Kong but 
will not duplicate LAC's work on mainland labor issues. Five 
members originally from HKCIC, including Wong and one 
mainland employee, form the staff of LAC.  Wong added that, 
by coincidence, her LAC colleagues did not necessarily have a 
"church background."  HKCIC, on the other hand, will continue 
to get more of its direction and funding from local churches. 
 Choi Yuk Yuk, also formerly a member of HKCIC, is now the 
head of Worker Empowerment, which has an office in Shenzhen 
and is funded by a European Union church group.  According to 
Wong, all three organizations meet regularly and try to 
coordinate their programs so that there is no overlap of 
work.  While there is no formal relationship between HKCIC 
and LAC, two members of HKCIC sit on the LAC board.  Some of 
LAC's labor programs include: worker training, labor 
litigation and public campaigns to support mainland labor 
activists. 
 
14. (C) One of LAC's programs has been its support of 
mainland jewelry workers' campaign against Lucky Gems and 
Jewelry, a Hong Kong-invested company, and other gemstone 
factories.  (Note: Beginning in 2004, several mainland 
laborers working in Hong Kong-invested jewelry factories in 
 
HONG KONG 00001251  004 OF 004 
 
 
Guangdong province claim to have contracted silicosis due to 
poorly ventilated workshops.  Several Hong Kong NGOs 
including CLB, HKCTU, HKCIC and LAC have helped these workers 
seek compensation from their employers.  LAC and other NGOs 
have raised public awareness of this issue by organizing 
protests at jewelry trade shows in Hong Kong. End Note.) 
Wong said that these mainland activists initially contacted 
Hong Kong NGOs only after exhausting all other legal means 
for compensation, including litigation, petitions, etc.  She 
added that these activists, who were living with an incurable 
pulmonary disease, were extremely committed to their cause. 
Five of the original leaders of this campaign had died, but 
had been replaced by other organizers.  However, it was not 
easy finding "second tier" leaders, said Wong, because the 
majority of gemstone factory workers just wanted to take 
their one-off compensation and return to their home villages. 
 LAC is also in the process of approaching law schools in 
southern China that would be willing to waive tuition fees 
for two gemstone organizers to attend a paralegal program. 
With a better understanding of the law, organizers might be 
better positioned to assist other laborers seeking 
compensation, said Wong. 
 
15. (C) According to Wong, ACILS had been helpful in helping 
LAC partner with qualified mainland lawyers and medical 
personnel in their silicosis campaign work.  However, Wong 
stated that the financial reports recently required by ACILS 
were a "real headache."  She added that there was now a new 
ACILS requirement to fill in a time sheet.  This new 
requirement "doesn't make a lot of sense" and meant that 
there wasn,t enough trust between LAC and ACILS. 
Reimbursement from ACILS for project work was slow and said 
that cash flow for the NGO was a "big problem"; some LAC 
colleagues were even paying out of pocket, Wong said. 
 
16. (U) DRL Foreign Affairs Officer Siu cleared this message. 
Cunningham 

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