More than 1,000 former teachers converged on a central government complaints office in Beijing on Monday in protest over years of service with unequal pay.
The former teachers from across China gathered outside the State Council complaints office, calling on the government to retroactively implement its promise to award them civil service pay and benefits, which include a retirement pension and healthcare.
Protesters included groups of more than 300 former contract teaching staff from the northern province of Hebei, around 100 from the eastern province of Shandong, and around 30 each from the eastern province of Jiangsu and the southeastern province of Fujian, protesters told RFA.
But they were met by a large police presence, who forced many of them onto buses before taking them to a large, unofficial detention center at Jiujingzhuang on the outskirts of Beijing, a protester from the northeastern province of Heilongjiang told RFA.
Police accused protesters of "disturbing public order," the petitioner said.
"We're not in Beijing to disturb public order; what's that supposed to mean?" the former teacher said. "How can this be 'illegal petitioning'?"
"It's not as if we are kicking up a fuss on purpose, or spreading rumors," the teacher said. "We are just lodging a petition at the complaints office in the normal manner."
Police took 18 busloads of petitioners away to Jiujingzhuang after cordoning off the area, protesters said.
The former teachers are appealing to the ruling Chinese Communist Party in Beijing after being turned away from complaints offices closer to home, a petitioner from the central province of Hubei told RFA.
"They are trying to block petitions, so they are retaliating against anyone who complains," the petitioner said. "They now have a rule here in Hong An county saying they are aiming for zero petitions."
"We got no joy from the government the last time we called on them to resolve this issue."
Back-pay and benefits
Petitioners say they are owed years of back-pay and benefits at a much higher rate than the one they were paid.
"The salary for a casual-hire teacher is incredibly low, just 1,380 yuan (U.S.$206) a month," the Hubei-based teacher told RFA.
"The minimum wage in Hong'an county, Hubei was 1,550 yuan a month, and it was very hard to raise a family on that."
Meanwhile, the Heilongjiang petitioner said teachers have been fighting for 16 years to receive benefits promised to them by local government in 1984.
"Casual-hire teaching staff were supposed to be given the opportunity to sit an exam to become civil service teaching staff in reforms brought in in 1986," the petitioner said.
"When the results came out, we had all passed the exam, but the local authorities here in Qing'an wouldn't honor that, and so they bought us out for just 30,000 or 40,000 yuan (U.S.$4,500-5,000)."
Many more former teachers said they had been prevented from traveling to Beijing to join in the mass petitioning event, however.
Teachers in China can be hired on civil service or non-civil service contracts, and those on the latter frequently complain of wages that are below a minimum living standard and often go unpaid for months.
Directive No. 32, issued by the central authorities in 1997, called on local governments to put all teachers on civil service contracts, which carry higher wages and more benefits. But cash-strapped local authorities have dragged their feet over the new rules.
China’s army of petitioners say they are repeatedly stonewalled, detained in “black jails,” beaten, and harassed by authorities if they try to take complaints against local government actions to higher levels of government.
Reported by Xin Lin for RFA's Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.