Editor’s note: The account comes from a report titled China’s Youth Meet Microsoft. It was originally published by the National labour Committee, which says its mission “is to help defend the human rights of workers in the global economy.” It describes the conditions of a worker in a factory owned by a company called KYE. Importantly, KYE makes gadgets for more companies than just Microsoft.
In response to this report, Microsoft has opened an investigation into KYE.
I woke up to the sound of the alarm. My body felt tired and unwilling. I knew that not getting up was not an option. Many other workers were getting up now, and if I didn’t hurry up and wash my face and brush my teeth, there would be a huge crowd at the sink in the washroom and a long wait, which would make me late for work. I start work at 7:30 a.m. I quickly dressed, grabbed a towel, and rushed to the bathroom. Wow! There were so many people there already. I pushed to the front and after five minutes of struggle, was able to get to a faucet.
After quickly washing up, the time was already 7:05. I grabbed a package of crackers off of my shelf and took seven or eight of them. I ate them on the way to the production area. When I arrived at the time card machine, I saw another huge line of workers swiping their magnetic cards. I stood in line behind a huge crowd of women, and when I got to the machine, it was just about time for the foreman’s talk (7:20 a.m.). In a short while, the foreman started shouting: “Everybody attention! Stand straight! Turn right!” Afterwards, the manager shouted: “Everybody pay attention: while at work, everyone should be full of vigor. Everyone must strictly follow the 6S system! You are not allowed to talk at work. You cannot drop products on the floor. Can you hear me?!” We respond, “we hear you!” but some of my colleagues didn’t answer with much enthusiasm. “Why are you all so tired? Do you all want to go back to the dorm to sleep? Do you want me to make you come back when your energy has returned? Let’s try again: Can you hear me?!” We shout back, “We hear you!” I can hear everybody’s irritation at the foreman as they shout back. “Everybody split up and return to your work stations!” Everybody splits up and goes to their work stations. My job is to put a rubber pads on the base of each computer mouse.
The job entails taking soybean-sized rubber pads off of gummed paper, and placing them one-by-one on the bottom of the mouse. This is a mind-numbing job. I am basically repeating the same motion over and over for over twelve hours a day. After only a few hours, my colleagues and I begin to feel sore in our necks, shoulders and backs.
Many people are fighting to keep from dozing off. To reduce my sleepiness, every once and a while I switch off between working while sitting and standing. The hardest time is in the afternoon between 2 p.m. and 3 p.m. The boring monotony of repeating the same motions for so long makes me extremely sleepy. Even the standing up and sitting down doesn’t seem to help me throw off my exhaustion. Many of my coworkers begin to nod at this time, and I imagine that they feel the same way as I do. If we could only talk to each other, we might be able to stay awake. But the foreman forbids us from talking to one another. If we say anything, the foreman will shout: “When you are at work, you cannot talk! If you want to talk to each other, wait until the shift is over!! What could you want to talk about at work?” Everyone tries to keep an eye on the time, constantly looking at their watches. Time crawls by very slowly. Extremely slowly! Finally when the whistle sounds, we are off the shift (5:20 p.m.). But, we don’t get up and leave right away. Every day, we have to gather together after work and hear the foreman speak. There was one boy who joined the factory not too long ago who fled the work area; he decided that he didn’t want to stay there one more minute. Our foreman discovers that he is gone and ruthlessly says: “watch me punish him later!”
The foreman then calls out commands for workers to: “stand at attention, turn right” and sums up the day’s work. One worker who accidentally dropped a product on the ground is called out and scolded by name. Finally, the foreman says we can leave. At that time, we only have a half an hour before the overtime shift begins. I think about running to a market outside the factory to buy some daily items, but I clearly do not have enough time. I only have enough time to run to the cafeteria for a quick meal. When I arrive at the cafeteria service window, there is already a large line. It takes me about five minutes to get to the front. As soon as I finish eating, I return to the workroom and prepare for overtime. I know that I can choose not to work overtime, but if I don’t work overtime, then I am stuck with only 770 RMB [$112.67 per month] in base wages. This is not nearly enough to support a family.
My parents are farmers without jobs. They also do not have pensions. I also need to worry about getting married which requires a lot of money. Therefore, I still push myself to continue working in spite of my exhaustion. When I finish my four hours of overtime, I’m extremely tired. At this time, even if someone offered me an extravagant dinner, I probably would refuse. I just want to sleep! For some reason, this factory has a stupid regulation that doesn’t allow anybody to enter or reenter the factory [compound] after 9 p.m. In other words, this regulation basically restricts workers from exiting the factory [compound] in the evening. When workers finish overtime, it is already 10 p.m., and if they leave the factory, they cannot come back in. Most workers live in the company dorm, so they don’t dare risk getting stuck outside. This regulation was crafted to force workers to rest in the dorms and it guarantees workers’ performance the next day! I returned to my dorm and had to wait in the washroom line again to wash up. At 11 p.m., I finally finished my shower and washed my clothes. At 11:35 I lay down on my bed, and even thought the dorm is extremely hot, I fell quickly to sleep. Before I fall asleep, I do not forget to set my alarm to wake me up the next day.
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