Workers at a state-owned coal mine in the northern Chinese province of Shanxi have called for the release of colleagues detained during clashes with police amid ongoing strike action over pay and conditions.
Some 1,500 miners and other workers at the China Coal Pingshuo Coal Co. have joined the strike over deductions from their paychecks, ostensibly for "social security" purposes.
“We are still on strike; this has been going on since Aug. 16,” a striking miner surnamed Liu said on Friday. “It’s over equal work for equal pay and about our insurance payments and what they cover.”
“There are about 70 or 80 [police] here today,” Liu said. “There were more than 100 yesterday.”
“They beat up three workers, and detained three,” he said.
The clashes came after around 1,500 people gathered outside the mine gates, blocking the road outside and calling on management to “stand by its promises,” the Sichuan-based rights website Tianwang reported.
The striking workers were detained during clashes outside municipal government offices in nearby Shuozhou city, where more than 1,000 protesters gathered on Tuesday.
This strike is about our insurance contributions and the five-in-one benefits system,” another striking worker surnamed Yang told RFA. “We have still had no response from the government; we are outside the gates of the city government right now.”
He also said police were preventing the protesters from entering the government complex.
“We’re not blocking the road; we’re squatting by the side of it, and there are police here who have beaten up some students and snatched away our banners,” Yang said.
He said miners were incensed to discover that deductions taken from their pay-packets hadn’t gone towards their social security accounts as promised.
“Out of four years, they have only paid our social security contributions for 20 months,” Yang said. “We are also demanding equal work for equal pay, a change to our contracts and a five-in-one social security contribution system.”
“There have been at least 200-300 people here protesting every day for the past few days.
The renewed protests come after an employee who answered the phone at the Pingshuo Coal Co. earlier this week said the strike was over.
“They’ve all left; the situation has now been resolved,” the employee said on Tuesday.
Tianwang founder and rights activist Huang Qi said the protest comes amid mass layoffs in China’s coal industry amid falling demand.
“I think the main reason has to do with the recent economic situation, which has seen a fall in the fortunes of the coal industry,” Huang said. “That’s why people are standing up and protesting for their rights and interests.”
“On top of that, you have a situation in which the local government, in particular the labor department, is biased in favor of management, which causes a lot of anger among the workforce,” he said.
Wang Shengsheng, a rights lawyer specializing in labor law, said companies are forbidden from taking deductions from workers’ salaries except to pay them into social security schemes.
“Any deductions from salaries are only allowed when there is a very good reason, otherwise they are in breach of the labor law,” Wang said.
Rights groups said the decline in the coal industry has been so sharp this year that it has led to a fall in the number of strikes and protests by miners.
China in February announced plans to lay off 1.8 million workers in the coal and iron and steel industries, or about 15 percent of the workforce, the Hong Kong-based China Labour Bulletin said in a recent report on its website.
But local governments, fearful of growing social unrest, have been dragging their feet, it said.
A March mass protest by thousands of miners in the northeastern city of Shuangyashan had “made very apparent the dangers of failing to pay workers on time and laying off workers without proper compensation,” it said.
Reported by Qiao Long for RFA’s Mandarin Service, and by Lee Lai for the Cantonese Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.