Shipyard workers in southern China’s Fujian province have staged a strike and blocked a road to demand unpaid wages, scuffling with armed police on the scene, according to eyewitnesses Tuesday.
The workers from the Guanhai Shipyard in Fuzhou, the provincial capital, said the factory is more than three months in arrears with their salary and that the management has refused to pay despite a series of requests by the employees.
On Monday morning, hundreds of workers walked out of the factory, stopping traffic in front of the shipyard and paralyzing the road for several hours. Authorities dispatched armed police to the scene to keep order.
“I don’t want to discuss the issue,” said a worker at the shipyard on Tuesday.
“You might want to contact our management,” added the man, who asked to remain anonymous.
A manager at the factory insisted that the salary arrears had been settled.
“We have already paid the arrears,” said the man, surnamed Long.
When asked about the protests on Monday, he said “Today we are operating normally. Why do you keep asking about things that already happened?”
Contractors at fault
Long also said that the factory had decided to pay the workers directly, ending a practice where some of them were paid by contractors.
He acknowledged that some workers had gone unpaid due to alleged failure by contractors to fulfill their commitments.
“Some contractors we used didn’t give the money to workers.”
China has seen an increased number of worker strikes recently amid an economic slowdown and as manufacturers face some of the toughest economic conditions in recent years.
Shenzhen-based commentator Zhu Jianguo said that the characteristics of Chinese worker strikes have evolved noticeably since last year.
“This year the strikes drastically increased in scale and frequency. It reflects the increasingly deteriorating economic reality,” Zhu said.
“Another factor is that the cost of materials has increased this year, putting manufacturers in a hard position. This contributed to the growing number of strikes as well.”
China already sees thousands of "mass incidents" across the country every year, according to official statistics, many of which are protests or sit-ins linked to forced evictions, allegations of corruption, and disputes over rural land sales.
China's striking workers often come from a new generation of migrant workers from inland provinces, who are less prepared to tolerate poor pay and working conditions, according to the Hong Kong-based China Labor Bulletin (CLB).
"These young activists have not only won noticeable concessions from their employers, they have also forced the government and trade unions to reassess their labor and social policies," the CLB said in a news release linked to a recent report on Chinese labor issues.
According to the report, China's workers are getting more skilled at negotiating with employers and have won major concessions, as well as putting in place the beginnings of a collective bargaining system.
Reported by Qiao Long from Hong Kong for RFA’s Mandarin service. Translated and written in English by Ping Chen.