Thousands Strike at Specialty Distiller in China's Sichuan

Workers say they aren't being fairly compensated for planned layoffs at the plant.

Striking workers outside the Sichuan Tuopai Shede Wine Company, April 5, 2016.

Thousands of workers at a specialty distiller in the southwestern Chinese province of Sichuan are continuing to strike over mass layoffs at the company despite weekend clashes between workers and police.

Workers at the Sichuan Tuopai Shede Wine Co. in Sichuan's Suining tangled with riot police on Sunday night after several thousand angry protesters gathered outside the distillery.

Video shot by striking workers and shared on YouTube showed a crowd of people gathered outside the distillery's north gate, shouting at and filming a row of police clad in riot helmets, who advanced with shields as sirens blared in the background.

The strike continued with a smaller number of diehard protesters still in place on Tuesday, with police in riot gear on patrol throughout the area, employees told RFA’s Chinese Service.

"I'm not at the scene, but I think there are still some people there, though most have dispersed," an employee of the Tuopai Shede distillery told RFA on Tuesday. "There are about 5,000 employees in our factory [altogether]."

A striking worker surnamed Deng said that police had detained around 100 people during the clashes, but most were released by Tuesday.

"Several hundred riot police came, and a lot of the workers were injured by the beatings they got, including female workers," Deng said. "There were so many of us that the police were always going to crack down on it; they would never allow us to make trouble like that."

Restructuring issue

A worker who gave only gave the nickname A Shen said the strike was over the company's restructuring.

"Their restructuring plans aren't fair on us workers, and a lot of money is going to end up in somebody else's hands," A Shen said. "It's very bad for the workers."

An employee who answered the phone in the Tuopai Shede offices said the company is dealing with the issue.

"You will have to ask our leaders, but I know that they are in the process of dealing with the matter, but the rest I don't know," the employee said.

An official who answered the phone at the local county government offices declined to comment.

"You'll have to speak to the county propaganda department, because I don't know about this," the official said.

A second employee hung up the phone when contacted by RFA. Repeated calls to the township government offices rang unanswered during office hours on Tuesday.

'I daren't answer that'

An officer who answered the phone at the nearby Taihe police station also declined to comment.

"You should come here and ask that," the officer said. Asked if the police are currently dealing with the situation, he said, "I daren't answer that."

China has seen at least 850 industrial disputes and strikes since the beginning of this year, the Hong Kong-based China Labour Bulletin's Strike Map showed on Tuesday.

In a recent report, the group blamed poor practice among employers rather than the economic slowdown for growing industrial unrest across the country.

The All-China Federation of Trade Unions (ACFTU), which has the backing of the ruling Chinese Communist Party, had failed to represent workers in most cases, according to labor activists.

Instead, its role is increasingly being taken over by workers' "service centers," which offer free advice to workers in disputes with management.

However, a crackdown at the end of last year saw several prominent labor activists detained on public order charges for helping workers with disputes.

Reported by Lin Jing for RFA's Cantonese Service, and by Qiao Long for the Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.