Hundreds of public transportation workers in the southern Chinese city of Shenzhen staged a protest this week in support of a colleague who killed herself by jumping from a tall building after having her pay docked.
The suicide of 32-year-old Yang Meihua, a bus conductor on Shenzhen Western Bus Company's No. 654 route, came on Monday after she was called in by company management for a meeting.
She later jumped from a five-story building and died from her injuries, sparking protests by several hundred of her coworkers who clashed with police on Tuesday, local residents said.
"The police beat and injured three of our colleagues, and they are still in the hospital," said a colleague of Yang's, who gave only his surname Chen.
"A large band of riot police came to suppress the crowd, and things got pretty chaotic," he said.
"Out of the three who got hurt, one was a bus driver, and the other two were bus conductors," Chen added. "All were women. The riot police went too far; they beat up everyone, men and women alike."
Chen said he had spoken to Yang, who had her pay cut after a passenger complained to the company that she wouldn't let him get off the bus between stops, before her suicide on Monday.
"The management told her to write a report or face immediate termination, and she couldn't accept it," he said. "She said that she would commit suicide by jumping off a building if they docked her pay."
"The manager just sat there coldly and told her to go jump, so she could see it for herself ... so she jumped and died on the spot," Chen said.
An employee who answered the phone at the headquarters of the Shenzhen Western Bus Company's propaganda department said the company was probing Yang's death.
"We are [currently investigating the incident], but we have no information to give you at this time," the employee said.
An officer who answered the phone at the Bao'an district police department in Shenzhen also declined to comment.
Low-paid workers in a former boomtown
Shenzhen-based rights activist Zhu Jianguo said the incident highlighted how hard life could be for the lowest-paid workers in the former boomtown.
"They only make around 2,000 yuan [U.S. $330] a month, so if you take 10 percent of that away, she wouldn't be able to cope," Zhu said.
"The lowest-paid workers don't earn enough to cover the cost of living in Shenzhen," he said. "This causes some workers to feel a sense of pointlessness."
He said that while government officials were seldom fined for poor performance, low-paid employees in the private sector were commonly targeted in this way.
"If anyone complains about a bus conductor, they immediately dock their pay...Ordinary people and employees are very strictly supervised, far, far more than officials."
Boom in worker suicides
In recent years, China has seen a boom in worker suicides, in particular at Taiwanese-owned iPhone maker Foxconn, which sparked an investigation into working conditions there.
Suicide is a leading cause of death for Chinese women and China is the only country in which the suicide rate for females is higher than for males.
Psychologists say that Chinese people's overall happiness has been affected in recent years by widespread impatience, an approach to goal-setting entirely geared to material wealth, and a need to compete and compare well with others.
Last month, seven top women lawyers called on China's Supreme People's Court in Beijing to set up a women's rights tribunal to handle a huge backlog of legal challenges linked to workplace discrimination.
Rights groups say that while Chinese women enjoy labor law protection on paper, such rules are frequently flouted by companies seeking to minimize the cost of maternity leave and other family-linked benefits.
Reported by Fung Yat-yiu for RFA's Cantonese Service and by Qiao Long for the Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.