With the annual pre-Lunar New Year surge in wage arrears protests in full swing, government news and social media outlets are abuzz with warnings to workers to refrain from taking “extreme action,” and threats to blacklist employers whose failure to pay wages leads to worker protests.
A look at CLB’s Strike Map over the last month shows however that China’s workers at least are more than willing to engage in negotiations to resolve disputes. Rather than resort to so-called extreme actions, they can go to great lengths to follow the law and try to work out conflicts with their employers even when their rights have been severely violated.
Out of the roughly 100 wage arrears disputes recorded on the strike map in December, there were at least a dozen detailed reports of workers organizing to negotiate a resolution with management, including two cases from Hainan discussed below. It is safe to assume also that similar negotiations occurred in many other cases but no journalists were on hand to record them.
Local governments should learn from this and, rather than resort to threats, seek to leverage the clearly demonstrated capacity of workers for collective negotiations by encouraging the trade union to get involved and represent employees in good faith bargaining with management.