WASHINGTON - June 8 - Today the AFL-CIO -- with bi-partisan support from Congress -- asked the Bush Administration to take immediate action to halt the Chinese government’s and multi-national corporations’ exploitation of workers in China, who are paid as little as 15 to 50 cents per hour. Saying the gross violations of workers’ rights in China have contributed to the loss of more than a million jobs in the U.S., the labor union federation filed a petition with the United States Trade Representative calling for special action on China as provided for under Section 301 of the Trade Act of 1974.
That petition states that wages in China are up to 60 percent below that government’s own minimum wage standards and up to 85 percent below what workers would make if China honored the fundamental workers’ rights set forth in international trade law. Workers work 10, 12 or even 18 hour days, often seven days a week, and are typically not paid overtime wages as required by law. The petition concludes that the brutal suppression of workers’ rights by the Chinese government and corporations in China is lowering global standards and has contributed to the loss of an estimated 930,000 manufacturing jobs and 1,235,000 total jobs in the United States.
“Exploitation of human beings through repression of fundamental rights for economic gain is both morally repugnant and economically dangerous,” AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Richard Trumka said at a morning press briefing. “The fact is that China is violating international trade law, and our nation is doing nothing about it.”
Two years ago the AFL-CIO filed a similar trade petition, which was rejected by the Bush Administration despite overwhelming evidence that action was required under provisions of U.S. trade law. The Bush Administration’s refusal to comply with the Trade Act has allowed workers’ rights violations in China to get worse and has contributed to the loss of hundreds of thousands of additional American jobs.
The petition filed today was co-signed by U.S. Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD) and U.S. Rep. Christopher Smith (R-NJ).
"American manufacturers, service businesses and farmers can compete, and win against any nation if the playing field is level,” said Rep. Cardin, ranking member of the Trade Subcommittee of the Ways and Means Committee. “China's persistent denial of basic workers’ rights is a direct violation of international trade rules, providing them with an unfair and immoral trading advantage."
Rep. Smith called the AFL-CIO’s petition a bold and necessary action.
“There is no recourse for millions of Chinese laborers trapped in poor working conditions,” Rep. Smith said. “Those who protest unjust wage and labor practices outside of the government-controlled labor unions are arrested and imprisoned. Despite the Administration's efforts to encourage the Chinese to comply with international labor standards, the Chinese government continues to ignore worker rights. I hope there will be a serious reappraisal by the Administration of our partnership with dictators as a result of this petition.”
Jing-Hua Lu, a former factory worker in China and a forceful advocate for international workers’ rights, told reporters that it’s imperative the U.S. government take action against China now.
“The U.S. administration should take this petition seriously,” Lu said. “Chinese workers need to be able to exercise their right of freedom of association. It is a basic right, and a basic answer to the dilemma of Chinese workers and the flight of jobs to China to exploit low wages.”
George Bornes, a United Steelworkers of America pipeworker from Sharon, PA and Vietnam veteran, told reporters that he expects his country to do a much better job protecting its workers. Three hundred of the 400 workers at Bornes' plant have been laid off in recent years due to a surge in China pipe imports.
"I did my military service to protect my country. I’m saying to President Bush that it’s time he enforce our trade laws and protect American workers and Chinese workers, who are both being exploited."
The petition demands that the president implement a program of economic incentives for the Chinese government to improve its record on workers’ rights and impose temporary, WTO-consistent trade measures against the Chinese government, so long as the government fails to comply with internationally recognized workers’ rights. At the same time, the petition says, the president must implement a system for verifying that the Chinese government and global corporations are improving their compliance with workers’ rights.
Mark Barenberg, Professor of International Law at Columbia University, worked with the AFL-CIO to draft the petition.