August 13, 2008

Solidarity Works--Toy Workers in China Win Sunday off and a Wage Increase

K'NEX Sesame Street Workers in China Win Sunday Off, a 16 Percent Wage Increase, and Have Their Hours Cut Nearly in Half!

The young workers say they are "very happy" now, and with the positive changes they would like to keep working at the Kai Da Toy Factory.  In the past there was a huge and constant turnover rate at the plant.

Solidarity Works:

Following the July 14, 2008 release of the National Labor Committee's report, "Nightmare on Sesame Street," the grueling, excessive and mandatory overtime hours at the Kai Da Factory have been drastically reduced.  Workers now receive Sunday off and work just eight hours a day.  The standard shift is now nine hours, 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., with an hour off for lunch.  Currently, the workers are toiling six days a week and 48 hours, but have been told that the Saturday shift will be cut back to four hours, a half a day, dropping their standard workweek to 44 hours.

During busy periods, some overtime may be requested, but the workers have been assured that they will never be kept past 10:00 p.m.

The injection molding department continues to work around the clock, 24 hours a day, operating with two 12 hours shifts.  These workers are at the factory 12 hours while working ten, after deducting the two one-hour rest and meal breaks on both shifts.  These workers are now being paid for all 12 hours and not just the ten hours of work.

Before July, the standard shift at the Kai Da factory was 13 to 15 hours a day, from 8:00 a.m. to 9:00, 10:00, or 11:00 p.m., seven days a week.  During busy periods, the workers were at the factory 103 hours a week, while toiling 89 hours.  Even during the slowest periods, workers were at the factory nine hours a day, seven days a week.  Workers would go for months on end without a single day off. 

The Kai Da toy workers now earn 74 cents an hour, which is a 16 percent increase over the 62 cents they earned before the release of the NLC report.  The new base wage at the factory is now 900 RMB per month, or $129.60.

Kai Da Factory Wages

Before (June 08)

  • 62 cents an hour
  • $4.97 a day (8 hours)
  • $24.83 a week (40 hours)
  • $108.80 a month
  • $1,296.00 a year

After (August 08)

  • 74 cents an hour
  • $5.96 a day (8 hours)
  • $29.91 a week (40 hours)
  • $129.60 a month
  • $1,555.21 a year

With the new base wage, the overtime rate has also risen.  Weekday overtime is now paid at $1.09 per hours, while universal overtime is $1.44.

While a 12 cent an hour increase might not seem like a lot of money, it is a 16 percent wage increase for these poor workers.  It increases their pay by $1.00 a day, which over the course of the week adds nearly a full day's pay to their wages. But the real wage increase is much more than this.  In the past, the K'NEX Sesame Street workers reported earning just $39.88 a week for toiling 89 hours, including 49 hours of overtime.  The workers should have earned at least $77.84.  They were being systematically shortchanged of 49 percent of the wages legally due them. 

Today, the toy workers are earning $41.43 a week for working 48 hours, which is more than they earned in the past when they were forced to work 89 hours a week!

This is why the workers are so pleased with the recent wage increase.

Mandatory production goals have also been cut back in the factory, resulting in higher wages.  Right now for example, in the spray paint department workers have to paint 500 small cars (small toy cars which run on tracks) in the eight hour shift.  This means they must paint 62 ½ toy cars per hour or one car every 58 seconds for which they are paid one cent.  The workers report that they can reach this goal, and any production above the 500 cars during the 8 hour shift will be paid as overtime.  This is a far cry from the past, when workers assembling the K'NEX Ernie construct kits had to complete one operation every four seconds, 950 per hour, and 12,350 during the 13 hour shift.

While the recent improvements at the Kai Da factory are very welcome-and K'NEX and Sesame Street certainly deserve credit and thanks-more need to be done.  The positive changes have been focused on the formal workers who were directly hired by the factory.  Conditions for temporary workers, who were hired by recruiting agencies and then placed in the Kai Da plant, have improved very little.  Temps continue to work 12 hour shifts, while being paid an average of 46 cents an hour, which is well below the legal minimum wage of 62 cents an hour-which itself comes nowhere near meeting subsistence level needs.  Temps also have higher production goals, for example, having to paint 700 small toys in eight hours, rather than the 500 goal assigned to formal workers.  Temps have to paint 25 more toy cars per hour and if they fail to reach their mandatory production goal, their wages will be docked.

We should thank K'NEX and Sesame Street for their recent significant improvements regarding working conditions, hours, and wages at their contractor's Kai Da plant in China and hope they will now turn their attention to similarly improving conditions for the larger number of temporary workers employed at the Kai Da factory. 

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