Thousands of employees at China's flagship state-run Daqing oilfield in the northeastern province of Heilongjiang clashed with police on Wednesday over plans to abolish a system of guaranteed jobs for their graduate offspring, workers said Wednesday.
The protest entered its second day with a crowd of workers and their grown children at the state-owned oilfield—once touted by the ruling Chinese Communist Party as an icon of socialist modernization—holding up banners in protest, before clashing with police.
"Things escalated today, and there was a crackdown," a worker who declined to be named told RFA's Mandarin Service. "Pretty much all the cops in [nearby] Daqing city came out in force, and beat up quite a few people."
"They also detained a few of the parents and student [children]," he said, adding that the authorities had told the crowd it is illegal to gather in groups of more than five.
"There were more than 2,000 people there [and] more than 1,000 police, including riot police, regular cops and oilfield security," he said.
He said protesters were still planning to return to protest later on Wednesday.
"This is for their children's future, their employment prospects," he said.
He said the workers carried banners that read: "Our kids need to work. Give them back four years of their youth!"
Online posts to social media sites made by writers identifying themselves as Daqing employees said the company had a long-running policy of guaranteeing jobs to the graduate children of employees, a boon in today's tough graduate labor market and a throwback to the days of the "iron rice-bowl" and cradle-to-grave socialist welfare system.
But recently, the Daqing Oilfield Co. has begun turning down applications from some of the sons and daughters of employees, leaving them unemployed in a remote location that offers few other job prospects, workers said.
The company, which has ruled out hiring technical and community college graduates entirely, is still offering jobs to employee children who graduate from top-flight universities, and selectively hiring some from second-tier colleges, local sources said.
Many employees had spent large sums of money on university education for their children, believing a secure job to be on offer at the end of it, they said.
On Tuesday, the Hubei-based rights website Civil Rights and Livelihood Watch posted what it said was the full text of an internal statement issued by the authorities at Daqing, which is closely controlled by the government via the company's internal Communist Party committee.
"The gathering of some parents and their offspring over jobs in the oilfield has seriously affected public order at the company, which has had a negative impact," the statement said.
It called on company departments to hold emergency meetings and explain its hiring policies to all parents and their grown children, and to take steps to warn off protest organizers.
"The oilfield will refuse to hire the sons and daughters of anyone who continues to organize [protests]," it said.
"Anyone who leaves their post to join a gathering must be severely dealt with," said the statement, which RFA was unable to verify independently.
Need for reform
A second Daqing employee, who also asked for anonymity, said the hiring policy was in dire need of reform, however.
"This system should have been changed a long time ago," the employee said. "Of course this is going to affect some people's interests ... and this system was very good for company insiders."
"But I don't think it was very fair from the point of view of the whole of society," the second employee said.
"Now, there'll be a more selective system with testing. I don't think they need to hire only the children of workers ... we don't need all those people, and this was never going to last forever," he said.
"We would have had to face up to it sooner or later."
An employee who answered the phone at the Beijing headquarters of Daqing Oilfield Co.'s parent company, state-owned oil giant China National Petroleum Corp. (CNPC), hung up immediately after hearing that an RFA reporter was calling.
Meanwhile, an official who answered the phone at the Daqing government's oilfield management bureau confirmed the changes were going ahead.
"From an enterprise's point of view, it needs to hire talent, and to select the best candidates," he said. "Fresh graduates will now be evaluated based on their study record."
The Daqing oilfield became a symbol of Chinese self-sufficiency and Communist Party pride around the time of the breakdown in friendly ties with Moscow known as the Sino-Soviet split in 1960.
Discovered in 1959, it currently employs more than 116,000 people, pumping out around one million barrels of crude oil a day.
Reported by Xin Lin for RFA's Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.