Thursday, December 20, 2012

Reduced overtime at Foxconn upsets migant workers

An unintended consequence of enforcing 'fair' worker treatment - reduced income for migrant workers more than willing to work excessive overtime!

 "Nets to catch would-be jumpers still sag ominously from Hon Hai Precision Industry Co.'s  buildings.

But two years after a spate of suicides at the Apple Inc.  supplier's campus here, workers are more concerned about another measure designed to protect them: limits on overtime.

Hon Hai in March said it would change its workplace practices after an audit by a U.S.-based nonprofit worker-safety group found widespread breaches of Chinese law and Apple policies at three plants, including the excessive use of overtime. Hon Hai responded by pledging that it would bring its overtime policies into alignment with Chinese law by next year, allowing workers to work no more than nine hours of overtime a week. 

The Taiwan-based company, also known as Foxconn, pledged to improve health and safety conditions at its campuses across China as well.
But more than 15 workers on the Shenzhen campus said in interviews that they work more than the legal limit of nine overtime hours a week. A majority said they work 10 to 15 overtime hours and would prefer more, having left their distant homes to make money in this southern Chinese boomtown on the border of Hong Kong.

"I think a lot of the more experienced people from the technology production lines will leave" if the policy to limit overtime goes into effect, said a worker who asked to be identified only by his surname, Ma. "We don't know how much our salary will go up. But after being here three years, I don't have much incentive to stay, since my wage probably won't rise much."
Mr. Ma, who earned roughly 3,400 yuan ($540) a month including overtime when he arrived three years ago, said he now earns about 5,000 yuan. To make extra money, the 26-year-old buys used car parts cheaply on an e-commerce website and then resells them.

Basic pay at the Shenzhen Longhua plant is 2,200 yuan, before overtime.

Keeping Mr. Ma and its 1.5 million other Chinese workers satisfied, while manufacturing complex, time-sensitive consumer electronics profitably is becoming more challenging for Hon Hai. The company's labor costs will rise by roughly $1.4 billion when the new labor policies roll out next year, according to a Bernstein Research estimate. Hon Hai's operating profit margin had declined since the second quarter of 2010 because of rising wages. The figure rose to 3.4% in this year's third quarter from 2.2% a year earlier as the company raised what it charged customers, analysts said.

Hon Hai isn't alone in facing such challenges. Employee protests over working conditions and the willingness of staff to change employer for more pay have forced electronics manufacturers to raise wages throughout China. Hon Hai and other companies have moved some operations to countries such as Vietnam and Mexico, where costs for labor or transportation to end markets are lower."

Starbucks cuts staff benefits to fund avoided tax!

The Law of Unintended Consequences strikes again!

From the Guardian   -

"Starbucks is cutting paid lunch breaks, sick leave and maternity benefits for thousands of British workers, sparking fresh anger over its business practices.
On the day the House of Commons' public accounts committee branded the US coffee chain's tax avoidance practices "immoral", baristas arriving for work were told to sign revised employment terms, which include the removal of paid 30-minute lunch breaks and paid sick leave for the first day of illness. Some will also see pay increases frozen.
Starbucks coffee shop in Monument, LondonThe changes affecting about 7,000 coffee shop staff emerged as thecompany tried to quell public and political outrage at its use of secretive company structures that has seen it pay just £8.6m in UK tax over the past 13 years on sales of £3.1bn.
On Saturday Starbucks announced it would open talks with the UK government that could lead to it paying more tax in future and on Monday it was reported that such an announcement could come on Wednesday. But at the same time it was telling workers it was removing benefits and changing employment arrangements.
The new contractual terms being circulated to staff across 750 stores include the removal of cash incentives for becoming manager or partner of the year in favour of the award of a plaque and the removal of a bonus scheme for women returning after they have had a baby because "it is not considered a valued benefit".
A worker who claimed he was told to sign the new contract last week or leave, told the Guardian colleagues were "really upset" at the changes and said it appeared relatively low-paid staff were being forced to help bear the cost of the company's potentially increased tax bill.
"It's really convenient for them to say we're going to pay more taxes, when they're going to save money with us, the staff," said the coffee shop worker on condition of anonymity. "It's convenient saying we'll pay more because they're going to save more – and the perfect excuse for them is to say to staff 'We're going to pay more taxes, so…'."
He said his manager explained Starbucks "is losing a lot of money in Europe, so they said they needed to make these changes to save the company money".
Even apparently minor benefits are being cut. Starbucks is ending the practice of giving hampers to new mothers in favour of "a card and Starbucks baby grow and bib". The new policy on staff birthdays orders: "Removal of birthday cards. Bakery good code to be issued in store for free birthday treat." Congratulations cards on the anniversary of the first four years of service are being withdrawn."

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Mao's "Great Leap Forward" resulted in great famine

From - 

‘Tombstone’ by Yang Jisheng, translated from the Chinese by Stacy Mosher and Guo Jian -

"Mao’s Great Leap Forward, designed to make China the world’s leading communist state, generated the worst famine in history. Until recently, the West knew little about the causes and magnitude of the disaster, which killed tens of millions in four years.

“Tombstone” looks at the Chinese famine of the mid-1900s.

As a veteran Chinese journalist, Yang Jisheng recounts in his book “Tombstone” how for decades officials blamed “natural calamity” for the massive population loss; references were made to epidemics, “and no mention of starvation was allowed.” Yang has conducted a sweeping investigation and amassed information from dozens of archives to produce a comprehensive history of the Great Chinese Famine. He intended his book as a monument to the millions of victims, including his own father.
The original two-volume version of “Tombstone,’’ double the size of the English edition, appeared in 2008 in Hong Kong and has already run to eight printings. The book is banned in mainland China where no full famine account has ever been published, “an offense to the memories of tens of millions,” writes Yang.
Frank Dikötter, a Hong Kong-based historian, was the first to disclose to the West the true dimensions of this man-made tragedy. In his 2010 award-winning “Mao’s Great Famine: The History of China’s Most Devastating Catastrophe, 1958-62’’ Dikötter holds Mao responsible for the deaths of 45 million people, who were starved and beaten to death in pursuit of a utopian paradise.
“The masses are slaves,” a party cadre was quoted as saying, “and they won’t do anything unless beaten, berated, or deprived of food.” Local cadres had unlimited power to rape, ransack homes, deny food, beat and kill those who stole out of hunger or those not blindly obeying. The draconian system generated waste and destruction. Peasants received inflexible commands about plowing depth for seeding and planting density, directives that lead to crop failure.An admirer of Stalin, Mao imposed collectivization and industrialization on backward China, emphasizing high production targets and speed. But unlike Stalin, he mobilized peasants to work in both agriculture and industry, turning the entire country into a vast gulag. Millions of private farms across China were forcibly consolidated into gigantic communes, the state seizing private land and assets without compensation; opponents were beaten and killed. Private property was seen as an impediment to communism; about 40 percent of all housing was destroyed. The regime sanctioned an unprecedented persecution of peasants across China, their lives sacrificed to unworkable goals dictated by the supreme leader.
Mao promoted people’s communes, which allowed for an extraordinary concentration of state power. By putting every aspect of peasant lives under the party’s control the system created conditions for the famine. By the end of 1958, 90 percent of the rural population was forced to take meals in communal canteens; cooking implements were confiscated. When supplies ran out and kitchens closed, peasants were left without the means to survive.
Unrealistically high production targets and procurement quotas were the key elements that generated the famine. Faced with political pressure, the cadres exaggerated crop yields. When the myth of peasants hiding grain was created, army detachments were sent to extort every kernel.
At the Lushan Conference of 1959 Mao was made aware that his economic policies had “descended into chaos,” causing starvation. Instead of changing direction, Mao defeated “the anti-party clique” and purged his prominent critic, China’s defense minister Peng Duhai. After the conference Mao’s policies were intensified, extending the impact of the Great Famine.
Party secretaries never traveled to the countryside where desperation was total and cannibalism rampant. To cover up evidence of the famine local cadres had mass graves stomped flat and crops planted on top. With millions dying, the cadres entertained at lavish feasts and had meals delivered to luxury hotels. Survivors remember: “We were swollen with starvation, while the cadres were swollen with overeating.” Officials responsible for millions of deaths were merely transferred to other bureaucracies — unfairly, as some of them judged, since they merely acted on party orders.
Yang’s book can be compared with Solzhenitsyn’s “The Gulag Archipelago,” since its evidence was also bravely collected under Communism with the goal of helping dismantle the totalitarian system that had sanctioned mass killings. This system has outlived itself, writes Yang, who believes China should disavow its Communist ideals and erect memorials to the victims of the Great Famine."

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Nurse who took a prank phone call at hospital is found dead in suspected suicide

Some of my posts are about funny unintended consequences, others are about negative unintended consequences; but none - so far - are about tragic unintended consequences; until this one.

From The Independent -

"A nurse who was duped into transferring a prank call from two Australian radio presenters at the hospital treating the Duchess of Cambridge for severe morning sickness was found dead yesterday in a suspected suicide.

Jacintha Saldanha, 46, a nurse at the King Edward VII's Hospital in central London, answered the call at 5.30am on Tuesday from the Sydney-based 2Day FM station, whose DJs pretended to be the Queen and Prince Charles. Ms Saldanha put them through to a colleague who provided details of the Duchess's condition.

Ms Saldanha was found unconscious at a nurses' residence close to the private hospital in Marylebone at about 9.35am and despite the efforts of paramedics could not be revived. Police said the death was not being treated as suspicious, and a source said officers were investigating whether she had taken her own life. Mental health experts cautioned against any assumptions about factors contributing to her death. The nurse, a mother of two children, who started working at the hospital in 2008, is the first member of staff heard to answer on a recording of the hoax call from presenters Mel Greig and Michael Christian."

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Chinese divorce epidemic triggered by change in local land regulation

From:  - London Times -

"The registry office of a district in southwestern China has been forced to hire a platoon of extra security guards and commandeer the use of a large wedding hall to cope with a catastrophic surge in divorces.
Within the last fortnight, in a surprise blur of mass marital discord, the District Civil Affairs Bureau in Yunyan has been overwhelmed by a 500 per cent increase in apparent marriage breakdowns.
Many couples, citing “constant bickering” or “lack of mutual communication” on their divorce application forms, have been arriving at the registry office holding hands, laughing together and as visibly devoted to one another as the day they tied the knot. Without exception, the newly divorced couples return home together.
A veiled ethnic Buyi bride (C) supported by two girls in traditional Buyi suits goes through an array of bamboo culms during a traditional ethnic Buyi wedding in Guiyang, capital city of southwest China’s Guizhou ProvinceThe 120 divorces now being processed every day in Yunyan included a 90-year-old couple who had been married for decades but were suddenly so eager to split that they went to the Civil Affairs Bureau in a pair of wheelchairs and joined the snaking queue for a divorce. Another elderly couple watched as their two sons and two daughters all got divorced on the same day.
The Qianling divorce epidemic is the unintended consequence of a recent change in local land regulation that makes it exceptionally disadvantageous to be married.
The new rule, imposed by the Guiyang municipal government, means that farming families from that region cannot have a home larger than 240sq m. For many farming families in Qianling, the new rule was a source of immediate panic — over the years, they have invested in their properties and built larger houses.
But the rule has a loophole whereby unmarried couples count as two families and the home and property rights can be twice that size. Because the regulation applies to some 1,300 other villages in the region, fears are mounting that local bureaucracies will be inundated with divorce requests as farmers abandon their marriage vows to retain their properties.
Once the loophole was discovered by the villagers of Qianling and the queues started forming, it was immediately clear that the existing facilities for handling divorces were not big enough. Some complained that they had had been thwarted on four consecutive days in their efforts to secure a divorce."