Sanitation workers are out on strike again in China

China’s sanitation workers were back in the news again last month, staging protests over low pay and benefits in three cities; Shanghai, Liuzhou in Guangxi and Taiyuan in Shanxi.

Sanitation workers are among the lowest-paid workers in China, they have few if any benefits, and have to work long hours in hazardous conditions. Conditions are so dangerous in fact that sanitation workers account for about 13 percent of all the work-related accidents recorded on CLB’s Work Accident Map.

Because of their precarious working conditions, sanitation workers are also often among the most unified and determined in China when it comes to collective action. They were particularly active in 2013 and 2014, accounting for 19 percent of all service sector protests recorded on the CLB Strike Map during those two years. Probably the best known and most successful protest at that time was the two-week Guangzhou University Town strike in 2014, which gained national media attention.

However, many of the grievances raised by workers four years ago are still evident today, as the two incidents detailed below illustrate.

Sanitation workers arrested for protesting low pay in Liuzhou

Nearly one hundred sanitation workers went on strike in Liuzhou, Guangxi, on the morning of 26 March. The workers gathered in front of the municipal government building, chanting slogans and demanding an explanation from city officials for their continuing low pay levels.

After the workers staged a sit-in for a few hours, hundreds of police officers were dispatched to the scene. They surrounded the workers and threatened to arrest anyone who refused to leave. Videos posted online showed several workers being arrested with one detained in handcuffs. The strike and subsequent arrests received considerable attention online.

It is understood that most of the sanitation workers in Liuzhou were hired by local employment agencies on a temporary basis with few benefits. The majority were elderly, most in their fifties, and were willing to take the job only because they could not find any other suitable employment in the city.

Sanitation workers stage six-day strike to protest salary cut

Several hundred sanitation workers began a six-day strike in Shanghai’s Changning district on 26 March. The workers, employed by three separate labour agencies, were protesting a cut in working hours, salary, and the lack of any safety equipment.

One of the labour agencies issued a notice informing workers that they would work one hour less each day and that subsidies for morning and night work would be cut. When calculated on a monthly basis, the workers stood to lose 560 yuan or about 19 percent of their 3,000 yuan salary.

Workers from this agency protested in front of the district government on 26 March but when their demands were ignored, the strike spread to the other two agencies. Several workers were injured in the strike and four were arrested and subsequently released. Unconfirmed reports said the agencies eventually agreed to halve the salary cut to 280 yuan per month.

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