18 November 2011
By Rahul Jacob
Thousands of workers have returned to work at a shoe factory in the southern Chinese industrial city of Dongguan, amid allegations of police brutality to quell their protests on Thursday.
At least 2,000 workers protested outside the shoe factory on Thursday against the sacking of middle managers and the suspension of overtime, which effectively cuts their wages. The factory is owned by the Taiwanese company Pou Chen, which makes shoes for brands like Nike and Adidas.
Workers said the firings were related to a drop in orders at the factory and a decision by management to move jobs to another factory in the inland province of Jiangxi.
About 19 workers were detained by police and later released, according to internet reports. Several posted photographs online of beatings they had sustained in the protests.
A reporter covering the protests for Southern Daily, a Guangzhou newspaper, wrote in a blog about overhearing a conversation between a child and his injured father.
“Why didn’t you call the police after being beaten?’” the child asked.
The father told his child he was beaten by police, the reporter said.
Factories in southern China are struggling because of rising labour costs over the past year, and a collapse in orders from Europe since the third quarter as the EU debt crisis has dragged on.
Earlier this week, Zhu Xiaodan, Guangdong’s acting governor, said the province, which accounts for a quarter of China’s trade, had recorded a drop in exports of about 9 per cent in October because of a collapse in orders from Europe. He said that contrasted with the growth of imports and exports of 26 per cent in the first half of the year.
As labour costs have risen by double-digit rates this year, many companies have moved production from southern China to south-east Asia and China’s inland provinces.
Geoffrey Crothall of the China Labour Bulletin, a Hong Kong-based workers advocacy group, said he expected more labour unrest over the issue.
“It’s going to be tricky convincing workers [in Guangdong] to move inland,” said Mr Crothall, who said many young migrants preferred living in Guangdong’s bustling cities. “ It’s pot luck where the relocation happens. Will workers have to sign new contracts if they are moved inland?”
Pou Chen fired 18 middle level managers and workers in late October, one of the factors that prompted yesterday’s protest. One of the factory managers who lost his job wrote in a blog that the company had promoted him as recently as July.
“I have won awards every month. I love my factory and my family works here too,” he wrote in a post late last month.
Pou Chen did not respond to queries about the protests.
Additional reporting by Zhou Ping