HTC launch gate crashed by supplier union

Demands HTC’s acknowledgement of working conditions

LAST FRIDAY HTC unveiled its entry-level Smartphone, aptly named the Smart. It’s running Qualcomm’s Brew platform and is powered by a 300MHz Qualcomm ARM processor. However, what we’d like to tell you about is not the new handset, but instead what happened during the press event inside the Taipei 101.

This news story hasn’t made it outside of Taiwan so far and we felt it was worth reporting on, despite the event taking place a few days ago. As the press conference was drawing to a close and the group photos were about to be taken, the event was gate crashed by representatives for one of HTC’s suppliers. A woman came in shouting with several other people following her and there was a general confusion among the media at the event. The HTC PR representatives were doing their best to drag her away from the stage, while she was trying to hand over some kind of a list to Peter Chou, the president and CEO of HTC.

The event was also attended by Paul Jacobs, the chief executive officer at Qualcomm, along with his family. They were all visibly shocked by what was transpiring, although none of them were in harms way. The woman was forcefully removed from the event after having handed over her list to Mr Chou with several TV crews following her towards the entrance to the venue. There the woman was joined by several other protesters. The door into the venue was shut, but the protesters started to bang on the door and shout their demands.

This went on for about 20 or 30 minutes without most of the attending media at the event having any clue as to what was really going on. HTC wasn’t offering much in terms of an explanation either and it was only as of today that we found out some more details about what had transpired and why. The protesters came from one of HTC’s suppliers, a company called YoungFast, which is a manufacturer of touchscreen displays for hand held devices.

It’s important to keep in mind that the Taiwanese are mostly very peaceful and when asking around at the event it was clear that many of the other attending media were quite shocked, as this was the first time they’d seen anything like this. The reason behind the demonstrations was actually quite simple, the employees of YoungFast want to be treated like “people” and want better working conditions.

Although many of you might not be familiar with Taiwan, it’s one of the most quickly developing countries in Asia and things are moving forward very quickly, too quickly at times. However, many things are being overlooked, especially when it comes to workers rights. The protesting workers are mostly poorly educated and as such they’re also poorly paid at about NT$32,000 a month which is the equivalent of about $1,000. These are factory workers doing the tedious mundane jobs and they’re being treated very poorly by the company they work for.

For example, in Taiwan the government issues restrictions during typhoons so that people stay home and don’t have to go to work, yet you’ll get paid by law during these days that you have to stay home. YoungFast doesn’t abide to this regulation and force its workers to come in on these days, not only at risk to their own lives, but often to those of their children who would be left at home alone in worst case scenarios. The company also doesn’t pay overtime pay. Although this is a fairly normal occurrence in Taiwan, it’s not to the kind of extremes that YoungFast is taking things to where its staff is expected to work 12 hour shifts without any extra pay.

The company also expects its staff to work on Saturday’s and although the staff used to get paid extra for every Saturday, albeit a measly $16 per Saturday, the company now only pays its staff this amount every other Saturday, yet expects the staff to work every Saturday. Furthermore the company is said to be run in a “militaristic” style and has a very high staff turn-over due to this. Even management is leaving without their bonuses due to the way the company is run and considering that the bonus in Taiwan can sometimes account to very large sums of money, this is a very unusual situation.

What’s even worse is that when the staff tried to create a union to speak for them, they were told by the company management that they weren’t educated enough to have a union to speak for them. Considering that Taiwan is meant to be a modern society with labour laws and regulations, one has to wonder what the government is doing to improve upon things. Most likely nothing, as this would be considered a matter for the company and its staff to resolve, which doesn’t really help matters at all.

Now, we don’t want to take sides here as we don’t have the full story, but we felt we needed to highlight this situation, as we really didn’t expect something like this to happen in Taiwan. This is the kind of story you hear about companies in mainland China where workers are barely worth the wages they’re paid, but we really thought Taiwan was a more educated and socially developed country, but it seems like we might’ve been wrong.

What we forgot to mention is the fact that if you have a university degree, then as long as you can put up with the long working hours, YoungFast seems to offer quite a decent package. The website states that the package on offer includes “competitive salary, periodical salary adjustments and position promotion audits, employee stock options, professional certification training programs and internal and external skill development programs. Of course the factory workers get none of this. Apparently the company was even features in the Guinness book of records for offering a touch screen with “the fastest Chinese character input”, but we sort of fail to see the importance of this considering the way its staff seem to be treated.

The following link is to a post by one of YoungFast’s employees, although it’s of course in Chinese so you’ll have to use an online translator to make heads or tails of it if you don’t read Chinese – Please treat us like “people”S|A

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