Large-scale strikes a feature of recent worker protest in China

04 October 2013

There was a noticeable decline in the number of strikes and worker protests in China during September, when compared with the previous two months, however large-scale strikes continued to feature on regular basis.

China Labour Bulletin recorded a total of 38 incidents on our strike map during September 2013, down 43 percent compared with the figure for August, but up 5.6 percent from the same period last year. The workers’ main grievances and demands were related to low pay, wage arrears and poor working conditions, while the protests were evenly spread across the manufacturing (32 percent) and transport sectors (34 percent) with a smaller number of protests in the service sector (16 percent).

As noted in CLB’s report on strike action in China during the summer months, there now seems to be a trend towards a greater number of participants in strikes. And in September, five of the 38 incidents recorded, saw more than 1,000 workers take part. In Jixi, Heilongjiang, for example, more than a 1,000 steelworkers at the Beigang Group staged a strike and demonstrated in front of the local government on 16 September. The workers were protesting against wage arrears, and put up banners reading “we have to survive; we have to eat, pay our wages!”

The following day on 17 September, it was reported that about 6,000 workers at Shili Electronics in Dongguan blocked the roads in protest against unpaid social insurance contributions. They were confronted by hundreds of riot police and several workers were reportedly beaten.

Police intervened in at least two of the five large-scale strikes mentioned above and there does now seem to be anecdotal evidence that some local authorities are becoming less tolerant of worker protests.  On 23 September, for example, textile workers in Ningbo staged a strike in protest at the company’s relocation compensation offer. In response, the police intervened and several workers were reportedly beaten and or detained.

In a lot of the incidents recorded in September, details were quite sparse so it was not possible to fully gauge the response of the local government or whether or not the strikes and protests were eventually resolved through negotiations. However, of the 38 incidents recorded only four definitely saw government intervention and mediation, while in only one case were direct negotiations carried out between the striking workers and the employer.

In the most prominent strikes last month, several hundred crane operators and loaders at Yantian International Container Terminals went on strike on 1 September complaining of low pay and strenuous working conditions. The local government quickly intervened and brokered a deal in which workers got an extra 600 yuan to 700 yuan per month in benefits and subsidies. Their basic wage however remained the same.

Less lucky were the workers at Shekou port, a local container and bulk shipments hub, who went on a ten-day strike in protest against wages as low as 1,600 yuan, the equivalent of the local monthly minimum wage. However, after days of negotiations, there was little substantial progress because the workers demanded an increase of about 800 -1,000 yuan in their basic wage but management only agreed to offer an increase of 500 yuan per month.

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