Thousands Converge on China's Big Banks Over Layoffs

china-icbc-aug-2013.jpg Local residents withdraw money from ATMs at a branch of Industrial and Commercial Bank of China (ICBC) in Beijing, Aug. 12, 2013.

Updated at 1:20 p.m. ET on 2013-10-22

Thousands of former workers at two of China's state-run banks have converged on the capital in recent days amid a dispute over redundancy payments, as police continue to bus them en masse to an unofficial detention center, protesters said Tuesday.

At least one person was injured after a scuffle with police ended in a beating, they added.

Police have detained at least 3,000 former bank employees after they gathered outside the headquarters of the Industrial and Commercial Bank (ICBC) and the Construction Bank, protesters said.

A protester from the neighboring province of Hebei surnamed Cao said she was currently in hospital receiving treatment for her injuries after being beaten by riot police on her arrival outside the bank's headquarters in Beijing alongside 400-500 other former colleagues last Wednesday.

"We arrived outside the Construction Bank on the 16th, and went back [there] on the 17th," Cao said. "There were 40-50 vehicles parked outside the gates ... and plainclothes and uniformed police surrounded us."

"Other people took our ID cards, and I asked for my ID card back, and the policeman shoved me, and I grabbed his clothing on a reflex, and he took his radio and hit me with it," she said. "Then I was taken to the hospital."

She said her husband had gone back on Monday. "They took everyone to the [detention center] at Jiujingzhuang."

"He said there were 4,000 people [inside Jiujingzhuang on Monday]. There were more than 1,000 from the Construction Bank we worked for, and more than 2,000 who were from the Industrial Bank."

Another protester, Wu Lijuan, said she had seen some protesters being beaten as they were dragged onto buses on Monday.

"They were afraid we would go inside the ICBC building and shout slogans, and also it's very nearly the third plenum [of the 18th Party Congress]," she said.

"They wanted to stop us spreading out over Tiananmen Square, so they had already started to move in by 7.30 a.m. State security police and hired thugs in plain clothes dragged people onto buses, beating them as they went," Wu added.

An employee who answered the phone at the bank declined to comment on the incident on Monday.

"I'm sorry, but we don't have that information here," she said.

Cao said petitioners planned to keep up their mass visits to the bank headquarters ahead of a shareholder meeting at the Construction Bank on Thursday.

"If we don't succeed this time, there will definitely be a next time," she said.

Tiny payouts

The protests come after former employees staged smaller protests earlier this year, claiming their redundancy payments—made more than 10 years ago—were inadequate.

Protesters say their compensation packages were forced on them ahead of public listings, and that jobs were cut to mask huge levels of bad debt amassed by the banks before they went public in 2005 and 2006.

Construction Bank and ICBC are now two of the world's biggest banks, and their former employees say they can afford to treat their laid-off workers better, many of whom say they were handed tiny payouts after many years' service.

According to its website, Construction Bank will hold a directors' meeting on Friday, but there was no mention of a shareholders' meeting, however.

A former ICBC employee from the central province of Hubei surnamed Wu said there were still "several thousand" people outside her former employer's headquarters on Tuesday, although police were continuing to detain large numbers of them.

"The protest for our rights will continue today," she said. "There were 3,000-4,000 people outside the gates of the headquarters again today, fighting for their rights."

"But they took away another seven busloads [to the detention center]."

Feeling abandoned

She said many fellow protesters had been escorted back to their hometowns from Jiujingzhuang earlier in the week, to make way for new arrivals.

"There are police cars and armed police everywhere, as well as unofficial security, all taking them home."

Wu said many of the protesters felt utterly abandoned by a system that once promised them a job for life with generous social benefits.

"We no longer enjoy even the right to existence, nor the right to speak out," she said. "Didn't [President] Xi Jinping say he would sort out the social welfare issue? Well, our redundancies are a massive social issue."

"We have nothing to eat. What about our welfare?"

She said the concept of a "harmonious society" was meaningless in the face of such hardship.

"The proof of the pudding is in the eating," Wu said. "Only a small minority of officials are enjoying it, though. Regular folk like us can barely survive."

Reported by Yang Fan for RFA's Mandarin Service and Bi Zimo and Yang Jian for the Cantonese Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.


Add your comment by filling out the form below in plain text. Comments are approved by a moderator and can be edited in accordance with RFAs Terms of Use. Comments will not appear in real time. RFA is not responsible for the content of the postings. Please, be respectful of others' point of view and stick to the facts.