Published: 09/06/2011

Vitasoy, a Hong Kong-based transnational company with manufacturing operations in Hong Kong, Shenzen, Shangahi, Singapore, Ayer (Massachusetts, USA) and Wodonga (Victoria, Australia), promotes its premium soy-based food and beverage brands under the slogan “where healthy life begins” – yet the company appears to be far less concerned about the health of its workers in Hong Kong. The Hong Kong Vitasoy Employees Union escalated its campaign for union recognition and collective bargaining rights this week after management refused for 11 months to respond to repeated requests by the union to hold union-management meetings and engage in wage bargaining.

Management refused to meet the union to discuss the impact of excessive working hours that are driven by low wages and an unreasonable wage scheme.

On 7 June the union, an affiliate of the Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions (HKCTU), went public with its demands, staging a protest action and media conference prior to handing over a letter to company representatives. The letter reiterates the union’s demand for regular meetings with management, starting with negotiations on annual wage increases. The letter also criticizes the Hong Kong-based transnational company’s discriminatory approach to rights: Vitasoy recognizes the union at its Australian operations in Wodonga, Victoria, and negotiates a Collective Agreement with the union, while denying these rights to workers in Hong Kong.

In fact the workers at Vitasoy’s factory in Wodonga, represented by the IUF-affiliated National Union of Workers (NUW), were so angered by this situation they not only declared their full support for the struggle for union recognition and bargaining rights in Hong Kong, but voted unanimously to include a clause in their Collective Agreement – now under negotiation – extending coverage to the Vitasoy workers in Hong Kong!

These demands were submitted by NUW representatives to Vitasoy Australia management on June 6, a day before the public action in Hong Kong, which received widespread media coverage.

This remarkable act of international solidarity is based on a straightforward argument by Vitasoy workers in Australia: as long as the company continues to deny Hong Kong workers’ their right to union recognition and refuses to negotiate a collective agreement of their own, the only fair option left to them is to secure these rights  under the Australian agreement. The Hong Kong Vitasoy Employees Union responded with a message of thanks to the NUW and is determined to win the same bargaining rights in Vitasoy’s own “home town”.

In its letter to the company the Hong Kong Vitasoy Employees Union set an 11 June deadline for management to respond. If Vitasoy management once again fails to respond, a series of public actions will be held in Hong Kong, setting in motion an escalation of an international campaign with the prospect of an industrial dispute looming in both countries.