Press Release: Retrenched Oil Workers in Sichuan Get Organised For Legal Action

China Labour Bulletin Press Release

September 17, 2002

Encouraged by the struggle of their fellow workers in Daqing, retrenched oil workers at Chongqing-based Chuandong Oil Exploration & Drilling Company (COEDC) - a subsidiary of Sichuan Petroleum Administrative Bureau - organised themselves in defense of their rights to pensions and employment.

By mid-August, retrenched workers at COEDC took up collective action demanding the following:

-- unemployment allowance

-- adjusting the premium for their pensions; and

-- job placement or reinstatement for retrenched young workers.

Failing to reach any agreement, about 800 workers started to stage sit-in protests outside the COEDC building on September 2. Since then, approximately 500-600 retrenched workers have been maintaining the sit-in protests every day.

According to COEDC workers, the organisers put up banners and posters appealing to their fellow workers to sign up for collective litigation against Sichuan Petroleum Administrative Bureau (Sichuan PAB) and its subsidiaries. The workers believe they have legal grounds under Chinese Labour Law and Contract law since they were forced into signing the retrenchment agreement, and that the court should rule the agreement invalid. To prepare for legal action, the organisers started to raise funds to cover legal fees.

The action sent the company into alert. A worker at Chuandong Development Company, another subsidiary of Sichuan PAB, told CLB that on the morning of September 2, COEDC management reported to the police, saying that Falungong members were making trouble outside their office. Arriving at the scene, the police stopped the fundraising activities right away and attempted to make arrests. Outraged by the police action, hundreds of workers surrounded the police for 11 hours. The workers finally allowed the police to depart when the public security authorities in Jiangbei District apologised to the workers for the arbitrary arrests and promised that it would not happen again.

Further information obtained by CLB confirmed that as many as 4,000 workers from Sichuan PAB subsidiaries -- including Meter Repair Factory, Development Company, Drilling & Exploration, Well Logging Company and Main Desulphurisation Factory -- joined the sit-in on September 3. Around 500 workers were still protesting outside COEDC office on September 16, and the fundraising activities are still on going.

The workers' actions in Chongqing grew out of a situation similar to the 3-month protests of Daqing oil workers, which began last March. One of the retrenched workers acknowledged that they had been receiving information on the Daqing workers protests through various channels, and that they had been inspired and encouraged by these workers' bold actions. He said, "The workers here view the courage ... of the Daqing workers with great admiration. We think that [they] have earned respect for Chinese workers. Chinese workers are grateful to the workers in Daqing." He went on to say, "The workers here wouldn't have had the idea and the courage to organise ourselves if not for the actions taken by Daqing workers in March."

Like the Daqing workers, COEDC oil workers were cheated into signing the retrenchment agreement. Another retrenched worker described how they were forced to accept the retrenchment arrangement introduced in November 1999. He recalled that the management warned them of the consequences of not accepting the package -- they would simply be laid off if the company experienced financial problems, and they would only get small stipends of living allowance. Threatened by the bleak prospect, COEDC workers were left with no choice but to sign the 'agreement'.

CLB called the parent company, Sichuan PAB, in Chengdu for their response to the protest action. We were told that soon after the protest, the department chief in charge of wage matters was sent to discuss the matter with the Chongqing municipal government. According to Sichuan PAB there were two main issues in question. First of all, Sichuan PAB had contributed to the unemployment insurance fund under the Sichuan provincial administration. They had no idea how the fund was managed after Chongqing broke away from the province as a municipal administrative unit, the Wages Department of Sichuan PAB said. Secondly, PAB felt the retrenched workers should be regarded as unemployed, a point dismissed by the Chongqing municipal government.

China Labour Bulletin supports COEDC workers' action demanding their rights to pensions and employment. We also support their attempt to take up legal action in accordance with the Chinese Labour Law, Trade Union Law and Contract Law. CLB offers all possible assistance to COEDC workers in their legal fight.

CLB has often reported on the unjust and unfair treatment inflicted on the Chinese workers over the past twenty years of economic reforms. Mass workers' protests in Daqing, Liaoyang and Sichuan send a clear message that the Chinese government's iron-fisted approach to workers' concerns deny them the freedom of association but has not killed the workers' will to fight for their legitimate rights.

China Labour Bulletin

September 17, 2002

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