Guangzhou sanitation workers get support from students and civil society

27 June 2019

Students and civil society activists in Guangzhou are continuing to highlight the low pay and poor working conditions of sanitation workers in the city.

A survey by 15 college students from five universities in Guangzhou showed that despite promised pay increases of up to 40 percent in April this year, the vast majority of sanitation workers in the city were still not satisfied with their pay and working conditions.

The survey, published in the local Yangcheng Evening News on 12 September, revealed that even after the April pay increases, average wages were still just 2,442 yuan per month in the central districts of Guangzhou and 1,718 yuan per month in the suburban district of Panyu. Nearly 70 percent of the 80 workers interviewed said the wage increases had failed to meet their expectations.

The Southern Metropolis Daily had reported in April that the monthly salary for sanitation workers should reach as high as 3,033 yuan.

The students’ survey also showed more than 90 percent of the workers complained that there were no rest stations on their routes; and almost half of them said they had to bring their own drinking water from home.

The survey followed a well-publicised campaign earlier in the year by Sun Yat-sen University student Chen Weixiang who issued an open letter on 30 January urging the city to conduct a comprehensive survey of the street cleaners’ wages, saying that: “The cleaners’ salary is a test of the city’s conscience.”

Students have also been working with non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that are actively supporting the sanitation workers.   Zheng Zhifan, another student from Sun Yat-Sen University, interned at the Panyu Worker’s Service Centre and described its work promoting labour rights by providing sanitation workers with training sessions and seminars on collective bargaining and negotiating techniques with employers.

As individuals, workers are usually in a weak position compared to their employer when it comes to the protection of their rights. It will only be possible for them to have a balanced bargaining power when they unite. As a NGO that serves the workers, the Centre is well aware of this. So instead of dealing with each and every single case, the NGO is shifting its focus towards cultivating leaders among workers.

And at a training session in Hong Kong just last month, a group of Guangzhou sanitation workers discussed standing for election in their trade union so that they could better protect their co-workers interests over the long term.

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