TAIPEI, Taiwan - The ranks of striking workers at a shoe factory in southern China have swelled to more than 5,000, according to multiple online reports yesterday. Workers at the Dongguan based factory owned by Stella Shoe Co. have been on strike since March 9 in protest against the withholding of government-mandated housing benefits. The company supplies apparel to renowned global brands including Prada, adidas, Nike and Timberland.
Workers were angered when the company announced that it would only pay monthly housing benefits for those employees residing in Dongguan. The majority of China's workers are migrants from rural areas who must traverse long distances in pursuit of urban employment. Taiwan-based Jing-ren Labor Health and Safety Magazine reported that a wage dispute with workers in 2004 resulted in employees destroying company equipment.
A company spokeswoman put the number of workers on strike at "a few hundred workers," indicating that discussions to end the dispute were ongoing and that most of the workers had returned to work. According to reports by the Wall Street Journal, workers claim that police intervention played a role in the employees returning to work.
Reports of workers being attacked by police dogs and hit by cars were corroborated by New York-based China Labor Watch. In that report, some workers were billed US$271 for hospital treatment, including rabies shots. The average minimum wage in Dongguan is approximately US$209 per month. Housing benefits account for up to 20 per cent of an employee's average wage, according to China Labor Watch.
Stella Shoe Co. was founded in Taiwan in 1982 and has been a listed company in Hong Kong since 2007. The company owns several plants in China, Vietnam and Indonesia, with the Dongguan factory employing around 10,000 workers.