Factory workers in China’s coastal regions feel impact of economic slowdown

Last March, we noted a surge in worker protests in China’s central provinces, while Guangdong, the southern economic powerhouse, recorded fewer strikes than before. Nine months later, it seems that the focus has now shifted back to the coastal provinces as the manufacturing sector begins to contract.

China’s economic slowdown, exacerbated by the Sino-US trade war, seems to have been most acutely felt in the coastal provinces, which are once again the focus of worker protests in the manufacturing sector. CLB’s Strike Map recorded 16 factory worker protests in Guangdong in the last quarter of 2018, with 12 in Jiangsu and seven in Fujian, a combined total of 35, accounting for more than half of all manufacturing sector protests in that period.

The non-payment of wages remains the primary cause of these protests. In a bid to save their businesses during hard times, many factory owners simply stopped paying salaries. Unpaid social insurance contributions are another major factor. Without a job and with no pension, and little help from the municipal government and labour bureau, workers had no option but to stage collective protests in order to get what they were owed.

As China faces heightened economic uncertainty, it is even more important now for the official trade union to make sure that workers’ rights and legal entitlements are protected by establishing a strong presence in factories and preventing the flagrant management abuses that led to the following three illustrative cases.

Guangzhou factory workers demand salary and social insurance payments

Nearly 100 workers at a garment factory in Panyu, Guangdong, staged a sit-in on 21 December, protesting wage arrears and unpaid social insurance contributions. Workers claimed that Hong Kong-owned, Bogart Lingerie Ltd., which specialized in producing sportswear and underwear, had violated the law by paying wages on a three-monthly basis, and had failed to pay their social insurance contributions even though the requisite amount had been deducted from their salary.

The management took a hard line and ignored the protest, and even refused to pay workers’ wages in arrears if they resigned. The workers filed a complaint with the labour bureau but did not receive any response. Meanwhile, management lowered the piece rate, reducing workers’ income even more.

Auto parts factory workers block road to demand wage arrears

Also on 21 December, hundreds of workers at the Zhuwei auto parts factory in Jiangsu staged a protest at the suspension of production and wage arrears. Workers blocked the road in front of the main factory entrance, leading to traffic congestion.

The workers demanded an explanation for the factory management’s failure to guarantee them work. In online posts, employees said they had been forced to go on extended unpaid leave. When it was clear that the company was not sending anyone to negotiate, the workers sought help from the government but to no avail. Indeed, some workers claimed they were beaten by police.

Garment factory workers demand relocation compensation

Several garment workers at the Toyo Fashion company in Fuzhou, Fujian, staged a sit-in on 31 December to demand relocation compensation. Workers stated that the factory, previously run by a Japanese company for more than ten years, had evaded bankruptcy by transferring its assets to a Chinese owner last year. The new owner now planned to relocate production facilities, forcing the workers to resign with no compensation.

Dozens of police officers were deployed to prevent workers from entering the factory while private contractors removed machinery, workers claimed.

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