Dejian (Ken) Zeng
China Labor Watch
Shanghai, China

“Working overtime is voluntary in our factory,” a lecturer declared in one of the factory’s training sections for newly recruited workers.

My investigation has proved this to be a lie. The factory officials say this because mandatory overtime is one of the main priorities of their biggest client: Apple, Inc. The following are excerpts from my diary regarding this issue.

July 5

When the awful pain hit my back over and over again, I really wanted to escape. Since the afternoon, I feel like the muscles of my back are not able to hold up my body anymore. Whatever sitting positions I take, I can’t ease the pain. How am I gonna keep working for the next five hours? However, the 2.5 hours’ overtime with double wages is definitely appealing.

July 6

flow chart showing worker hierarchyI reminded the subgroup leader of my assembly line (see the figure for the factory’s management structure) about my application to stop working overtime. I told him I had gotten a part-time job in a Western restaurant in the city which is better paid. “Then why are you still working here?” He looked a bit upset.

I told him that they currently had only part-time positions for their busy hours at night. “At night? If you don’t get enough sleep, how are you gonna work effectively the next day?”

I argued that the job only lasts 4 hours, from 6pm to 10pm (the overtime for my shift starts at 5:30pm and ends at 7:30pm). I saw his hesitation, so I added that the money I would earn there in a few hours is more than what I get working whole day at the factory. Finally, he said, “Let me talk with the group leader first and I’ll let you know by tomorrow.”

July 7

Not long after the assembly line started running, the group leader came and argued with me about my “absurd” application:

Group Leader (GL): Five days and eight hours? Do you think it’s realistic? I am asking you: do you think it’s realistic? (in a tone full of criticism)

Me: For me? I think it is realistic.

GL: Realistic? Then YOU tell me who will do your work when you are gone? Your subgroup leader? Me? Or the higher level bosses?

Me: Then…then you can change me to another station whose work can be done by one person. Like this one right next to me. Plus, it’s just two hours a day.  (Generally, there are two to three people working on one station, but the girl who sits next to me has been working by herself for a month and is able to follow the speed of the assembly line.)

GL: Don’t you know you are such a selfish person?


GL : She is a woman. What if I let you do your work all by yourself for a day? You should really try.

[More reasoning and argument.]

GL: So, you go back and think about this again. Try to understand our perspective.

Me: But you should understand mine also. I’ll get much more money there than from here.

GL: How much are they paying you?

Me: 40 yuan ($6) per hour. They need people who speak a bit of English.

[He then asked detailed questions to check whether I was lying, and I responded well.]

GL: (After being silent for a while) Okay. Go back and think about it again. We will think about it also. (He walked away.)

I don’t understand why not working overtime is seen as such a sin. And the “interrogation” and criticism make no sense to me. Am I obligated to work overtime?

July 8

During lunch break, I asked the group leader about his final decision. “Will let you know before you finish work.” He walked away, seeming annoyed. Around 4pm, I was taken to see the line manager in his office. He knew the details of my situation already but I was asked to brief him. His attitude was better than the group leader’s: “I’ve known about your issue for a while, but every station has equal importance in the assembly line. It’s really hard for us to organize it.” He didn’t give me a final decision. We waited for the section manager to come, because I would need to get his permission. After 15 minutes, I was sent back to my station since the section manger was still unavailable.

July 9

Before I finished work, I asked the group leader again about stopping overtime. The following is what happened.

Me: Group Leader, can I stop working overtime next week?

GL: Yes for next Monday. No for Tuesday. Yes, when I have enough workers. No when I don’t. I talked with my boss. He said you’ll need to see the higher-level managers. They’ll need to interview you. So, that’s it.

Me: Can I just not work overtime for one month?

GL: NO! (Said while walking away again, without even turning to look at me.)

[To be continued]