(Adds Yue Yuen statement in paragraph 2)
By John Ruwitch and Donny Kwok
SHANGHAI/HONG KONG, April 26 Most of the
thousands of shoe factory workers who staged one of China's
biggest strikes over the past two weeks have returned to work
after the company agreed to some of their core demands.
Hong-Kong-listed Yue Yuen Industrial Holdings Ltd
- a $5.6 billion manufacturer of footwear for Nike Inc,
Adidas and other international leisure brands - said
that more than 80 percent of the workers at its Dongguan factory
returned to work. Three workers at the vast complex in southern
China had on Friday estimated that more than half, maybe as many
as 70 percent, of the 40,000-strong workforce had gone back to
Labour activists say the strike has been one of China's
biggest since market reforms started in the late 1970s,
prompting German sportswear firm Adidas to shift some orders to
suppliers elsewhere in China. A spokesman for
rival Nike said the company was watching the situation closely.
In its statement late on Friday, Yue Yuen estimated the
direct cost of the strike at around $27 million.
Workers went on strike on April 14 to protest against what
they said were chronically low company contributions to
state-mandated social insurance and housing provident fund
On Friday, a spokesman for the Ministry of Labour and Social
Security told reporters in Beijing that Yue Yuen had underpaid
its social welfare contributions. "The related department has
already ordered the factory to rectify the wrongdoings before
April 25," Li Zhong said. "Our ministry will continue to keep a
close watch on the progress of the issue."
Several workers in Dongguan reached by telephone said they
had returned to work after Yue Yuen offered to back-fill social
insurance and housing payments. But workers would be watching
carefully for concrete action, said one female, surnamed Liu.
The company had created some pressure for workers to return
to their factories by removing electronic card readers used to
clock in and out, workers said. "They're making us sign a
timesheet once an hour to make sure we're in the factory," said
one. Some were signing in, but not working.
Yue Yuen executive director George Liu denied the company
had violated any laws or regulations with the insurance payments
it had been making. "There is no wrongdoing. We have always been
in compliance with the relevant government laws and
regulations," he told Reuters.
The strike has made officials nervous, however, and labour
activist Zhang Zhiru and a colleague, Lin Dong, were detained
this week by state security agents. Zhang was freed after two
days, but Lin was still in detention, Zhang told
Zhang, who has been assisting workers for a decade, had been
working with other activists and lawyers to help Yue Yuen
workers organise and press their demands.
(Additional reporting by Sui-Lee Wee in Beijing; Editing by Ian