Worker unrest in Shandong on the rise as economy slows

05 August 2015

Worker unrest in the eastern coastal province of Shandong is on the rise with the number of strikes and protests recorded on CLB’s strike map in July standing at 18, second only to the industrial powerhouse of Guangdong with 23.

There were a total of 125 strike and protests in Shandong in the first seven months of the year, with similar numbers recorded in the neighbouring provinces of Henan and Jiangsu. Guangdong, with 193 incidents so far this year, remains the main centre of worker activism in China but other regions are clearly catching up.

About 75 percent of the disputes recorded in Shandong this year have been at least partially related to wage arrears, suggesting that this traditional manufacturing and industrial region is struggling to adapt to the “new normal” of slower economic growth in China. The provincial economy grew at 7.8 percent in the first half of this year, slightly higher than the national average of 7.0 percent but far below the double-digit growth it had been used to. In the city of Tengzhou, for example, dozens of manufacturers have already shutdown, sending ripples through other local businesses after thousands of workers lost their jobs.

Manufacturing and construction accounted for about 63 percent of the disputes in Shandong this year, similar to other regions of China. Where Shandong stood out however was in the relatively high number of disputes in the mining sector and in state-owned enterprises.

On 13 July, for example, 1,700 miners at a state-owned coal mine in Jining went on strike for three days over a 50 percent wage reduction. The company said the pay cut was a result of a downturn in business but the workers said the company had actually made a profit of 13 million yuan in the month of May alone.

A month earlier on 3 June, more than 1,000 workers at a coal mine in Laiwu went on strike over seven months’ wage arrears, while in March, more than 1,000 workers at a coal mine in Feicheng also went on strike over months of wage arrears. It was reported that around 200 of the Feicheng workers marched the 100 kilometres to the provincial capital Jinan in protest and that 17 workers were arrested as a result.

Striking miners from Feicheng, Shandong, displaying pictures of President Xi Jinping and Chairman Mao Zedong: 22 March 2015. Photo from Sina Weibo

Economic difficulties at a state-owned textile manufacturer in Dezhou led to two major disputes in January and July this year with thousands of workers marching through the streets and blocking roads in protest at years of unpaid social security and wage arrears. In the neighbouring city of Linqing, about 1,000 workers at state-owned Yinhe Paper also went on strike after the company announced layoff plans.

In addition to the economic slowdown, environmental concerns have also led to factory closures in the province. In early March, most of the steel plants in the city of Linyi were ordered to shut down, with one company fined 745,000 yuan for nine separate environmental infractions.

The Southern Weekend reported that the closures led to 60,000 workers in Linyi losing their jobs. Banking regulators warned of a local financial crisis in the event of default on outstanding liabilities of the shutdown firms; local police reported a crime wave in the wake of the sudden mass unemployment.

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