Information technology is a new focus for wage arrears protests in China

As the Lunar New Year approaches and wage arrears protests reach their climax, there has been a noticeable shift away from construction workers towards new industries such as information technology, finance and data services which, according to one government official in Guangdong, are fast becoming the “new wage arrears industries.”

Construction workers have typically made up the vast majority of pre-New Year protests, accounting for 70 percent of all wage arrears protests in January 2017. This month, however, the proportion of construction workers was just over half.

New technology companies employ large numbers of young workers and routinely fail to pay staff on time and in full. Management styles can be extremely harsh, and sometimes violent conflicts erupt, as the cases on CLB’s Strike Map below illustrate.

Changsha IT workers threaten to jump

Workers at Kai Mao Electronic Technology in Changsha threatened to jump from the window of their office building on 15 January, in protest at not being paid since November. Workers claimed managers had beaten them when they demanded to be paid. Police arrived to a chaotic scene, captured on video and posted on social media.

Social media posts attracted the attention of previous employees, who said they too had experienced wage arrears, and that the company would dock workers’ pay for the company’s poor performance, cutting wages from an already low level of 2,500 yuan per month to around 1,000 yuan.

The company had contracts for IT services with high-profile clients, including a subcontracted service for the city of Huaihua, operating the “Mayor’s hotline” where Kai Mao employees took complaint calls from local residents. 

Violence erupts at Shijiazhuang call centre

Workers at a call centre in Shijiazhuang, Hebei, came into conflict with management when their director suddenly announced on 9 January that more than a hundred workers, about a third of the workforce, would be laid off, while many others would be forced to transfer internally. At the same time, the company refused to pay workers’ wages.

When staff attempted to reason with their boss, the response was harsh. Video circulating online shows a manager shouting; “if you want to sue us, sue us, if you want to quit, then quit, but when you’re here, you obey the company!”

As tensions increased, several managers pulled some of the most determined workers into a room and beat them. The incident was videoed by staff on their mobile phones and showed many workers with bloody injuries. 

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