Central provinces are now the focus of worker activism in China

For well over a decade, the southern economic powerhouse of Guangdong has been the province with the highest number of strikes and worker protests in China. Over the last five years however the proportion of worker protests in Guangdong has steadily fallen while worker activism in other provinces has increased.

In the first two months of this year, the province with the highest number of worker protests recorded on CLB’s Strike Map was Henan with 34 incidents, followed by the neighbouring provinces of Jiangsu (31) and Anhui (26). At the same time, there were 23 incidents in Guangdong, level with Hunan and Sichuan.

The higher concentration of incidents in inland areas is partly explained by the annual increase in construction worker protests over wage arrears prior to the Lunar New Year holiday but it is also indicative of a longer trend that has seen low-end manufacturing facilities in Guangdong close down and move to inland provinces, combined with the growth of low-paid service industry jobs across much of the country. For the time being, Guangdong will continue to be an important centre of worker activism in China but certainly not the only one.

The following are two typical examples of recent protests in Henan and Anhui.

Construction workers stuck in freezing dormitory with no pay

After working on a construction site in Bozhou, Anhui for two months, a group of migrant workers from Sichuan and Guizhou had only been paid 400 yuan and were desperate to get their salary in full before the New Year.

The workers had contacted their subcontractors and the construction company, but none were able to resolve the problem. One of their subcontractors offered them 1,700 yuan each but another subcontractor said he could pay nothing until he received money from the main contractor.

Journalists visiting the site that the workers’ dormitory had an electric light but no heating. For two months in the midst of winter, workers could only warm themselves by burning firewood. Some workers had already bought train tickets to go back home but said they would have to return them if they did not get paid in full.

Workers on Rainbow Bridge repair project unpaid for months

A group of construction workers held banners in front of the highway bureau in Xinyang, Henan, on 12 February demanding long-overdue payment of wages. The workers had been responsible for the government’s high-profile “Rainbow Bridge” repair project but, more than a half a year after the project had been completed, they had still not been paid.

Xinyang’s “Rainbow Bridge” had been badly damaged by increased traffic. It was also a vital part of the city’s infrastructure, providing a route for heavy trucks transporting construction materials daily. With increasing concern being voiced over the bridge’s safety, the municipal government announced the repair project in 2016.

Workers protesting outside the Highway Bureau urged the government to pay them before the New Year so that they could return home to their families for the holiday.

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