Strikes on The Rise in China Ahead of Lunar New Year Holiday

2015-02-06
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Workers at the Citizen Precision watch factory strike outside the facility in Guangzhou, Feb. 5, 2015.
Workers at the Citizen Precision watch factory strike outside the facility in Guangzhou, Feb. 5, 2015.
Photo courtesy of factory workers

Chinese workers have staged hundreds of strikes in recent months, many of them over unpaid wages ahead of the Chinese New Year holiday, according to a recent report.

Construction workers, teachers and miners joined factory workers in a wave of strikes and protests across China in the final quarter of 2014, the Hong Kong-based China Labour Bulletin (CLB) said in a January report on its website.

The group said it had recorded 569 incidents during the fourth quarter, more than three times the number in the same period in 2013, and that unrest had intensified ahead of Chinese New Year, which falls this year on Feb. 19.

"Workers sought to ensure payment of long-overdue wages in arrears prior to the Chinese Lunar New Year holiday," CLB said.

Workers' demands for wage arrears, pay increases, and compensation dominated labor disputes, accounting for more than 87 percent of the incidents recorded, it said.

The rapid increase in labor unrest is also linked to China's economic slowdown, as well as the easy availability of smartphones and social media with which to coordinate action, the group said.

Some 20 percent of disputes recorded by CLB were clustered in the southern province of Guangdong, it said.

Watch factory

Around 1,000 workers at the Japanese-invested Citizen Precision (Guangzhou) Co. watch factory forced management to come to the negotiating table on Friday after striking on Thursday over changes to their contracts, workers told RFA.

"The workers were all gathered on the lawns outside the factory, and there were clashes after the riot police came," a Citizen employee surnamed Chen said.

"One person [was taken to hospital with injuries], because the riot police were shoving everyone out, and a female worker fell to the ground," he said.

The strike was sparked by Citizen's attempts to buy employees out of their contracts in the form of redundancy payments, Chen said.

"People have been working at the factory for a great many years," he said. "So they think the management is pretty heartless."

An official who answered the phone at the Huadu district government labor bureau confirmed that negotiations were under way on Friday.

"We are in the process of dealing with this," the official said. "But I don't know the details. You'll have to talk to our leaders, who are at the factory right now, dealing with the matter."

Other provinces

CLB said disputes in other provinces over pay and benefits are also on the rise.

More than 1,000 instructors at a private driving school in the southwestern city of Kunming went on strike over unpaid wages this week.

"I can't really talk to you about this on the phone, but it's to do with wages," an instructor surnamed Wei told RFA on Friday, while an employee who answered the phone at the Yicheng Driving School said lessons were going ahead as normal after the strike had ended.

"This happened for internal reasons which I can't discuss with outsiders," the employee said.

Outside Guangdong, labor disputes in Jiangsu, Shandong, and Henan rose to 43, 34, and 30 in the last quarter of 2014, compared with just 11, six, and six respectively in the fourth quarter of the previous year.

Some 200 workers at an electronics factory in Sichuan and another 200 at a Henan clothing factory downed tools on Wednesday over unpaid wages, with just two weeks to go until Chinese New Year, when hundreds of millions of migrants make the trip home, laden with gifts of clothing, food and money for their families.

"Give me back my sweat and blood money!" read one banner held aloft by workers at Henan's Zhengzhou Textiles Factory, during a protest that was later dispersed by local police.

Teachers and miners

While the construction industry is typically plagued by wage disputes, 43 strikes and protests were by teachers, more than four times the number in the fourth quarter of 2013, CLB said.

There was also an increase in the number of strikes and protests by miners, predominately related to wage arrears and job lay-offs as the industry shrinks, it said.

Reported by Wen Yuqing and Lin Jing for RFA's Cantonese Service, and by Yang Fan for the Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.

CH. 1: MANDARIN | CANTONESE

CH. 2: VIETNAMESE | BURMESE | KOREAN

CH. 3: KHMER | LAO | UYGHUR

CH. 4: TIBETAN

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