1000 Winery Workers in Anhui Protest at restructuring policies

On 2 March 2004, more than 1,000 workers, mainly ex-farmers, from the China Anhui Gujing Distillery Company Ltd, a member of the Anhui Gujing Group Company, staged a public protest, blocking the Bozhou Section of the Beijing-Kowloon Railway. The protests were against recent company restructuring which had raised fears of widespread layoffs and broken pledges by management.

One of the protesting workers informed China Labour Bulletin that “several thousand” local Public Security Bureau officials as well as armed police had gone to the railway and violently dispersed the crowd. One worker, a man surnamed Duan who worked at the company’s packaging department, was reportedly beaten unconscious and remained in a coma for several days. Some seven to eight workers were detained as they shouted slogans during the protest. However, after these detentions, several hundred workers marched to the winery offices to call for their release -- after several hours, the detainees were then released.

A sergeant from the Gujing Town Police Station confirmed to CLB that production at the winery had been paralyzed for two days, but he refused to discuss the reason for the dispute, nor would he confirm if any clashes had occurred between the workers and the police.

In an interview with CLB, a town government official reported that the director of the winery, Wang Xiaojin, who is also the local National People's Congress (NPC) representative, had to cut short his attendance at the Annual NPC meeting in Beijing and return to Gujing to try to resolve the dispute. However, it is not clear what action Wang Xiaojin has actually taken in this regard.

According to a manager at the winery, the dispute had arisen because the winery had been built on land originally farmed by local residents. After their land was repossessed, the residents had no option but to start working at the winery, since there was no other available employment in the area. He explained that these ex-farmers, often called “proprietor-workers”, believed that the winery, in the course of restructuring, was going to renege on promises it had made them when it took possession of their land.

The family of one ex-farmer and “proprietor-worker” informed CLB that most of the workers who had staged the railway blockade were in fact farmers who had lost their land to the winery. When the winery first wanted to take over their land, it made an agreement with the farmers that they would be employed in the winery and that their positions could be inherited or transferred as they wished. The workers demanded that this agreement remain unaffected by the winery’s restructuring, since the agreement had formed part of the price paid for their land. The workers were also asking for a revision to the proposed unequal system of share-allocation to be implemented in the winery’s restructuring.

According to a female protestor, some 1,000 “proprietor workers” stopped work on 28 February and had not resumed production as of 3 March. CLB also learned that in the aftermath of the mass demonstration on 2 March, the Winery Director had promised them that the previous agreement would remain in force. However the second issue -- of unfair allocation of shares between ordinary workers and managers -- remained unsolved. In interviews with CLB, workers gave examples of the unfairness of the share distribution in the restructured company. For example, the company had stated that a work unit supervisor, i.e. the lowest rank of managerial staff, will be allocated 200,000 Yuan in shares while the trade union chairperson and other senior managerial staff will receive shares worth several million Yuan. However, ordinary workers, including the worker interviewed, with some 14 years’ service at the company, were only to be given 20,000 Yuan in shares. The workers are currently asking for a share allocation of not less than 60,000 Yuan each after the restructuring.

In addition to the pressing problem of share distribution and fears over jobs, workers also told CLB about the poor working conditions and insufficient welfare benefits in the company, which has left them feeling inadequately compensated for the loss of their land and income through farming. Production at the winery is divided into high and low seasons. The periods before major festivals are generally high season and most employees have to work some 12 to 18 hours per day. In the low season, however, the winery sends a proportion of the workers home, without paying them any wages. Those who remain are still expected to work for around 12 hours a day. Throughout the year, an ordinary worker is reported to earn on average less than 500 Yuan a month.

The company’s website (http://www.c-b-w.com/company/gujing/yah2-1.html) contains the following description of the winery:

"China Anhui Gujing Distillery Company Limited is located in Bozhou City, which is serviced by the Beijing-Kowloon Railway. The company was set up in 1959 and is the core enterprise of Anhui Gujing Group Company Limited. It occupies 700,000 square metres and employs more than 6000 workers and staff members. Its main product is the "Gujing Brand" Liquor series. Annual production is averaging more than 60,000 tons of undiluted liquor, with an annual output value of one billion RMB and an annual profit of more than 500 million RMB. Since the distillery first became one of the 500 largest national industrial enterprises in 1989, it has been steadily holding 3rd place in its field (in size). It was officially commended as "a firm mainstay of the National Economy".

30 April 2004

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