Dejian (Ken) Zeng
China Labor Watch
“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.
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.
I 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.”
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?[Silence.]
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?
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.
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]