Toy Factory Protest in Dongguan

Chinese workers demand back pay as demand for exports falls.

2012-01-12
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A man operates the "iDroid" using a smartphone at the Hong Kong toys and games fair, Jan 11, 2012.
AFP

Hundreds of workers from a bankrupt Hong Kong-invested toy factory in China's southern city of Dongguan took to the streets in protest this week, saying that the factory management had left town with their wages still unpaid.

Around 1,000 workers from the Dongguan Chuangying Toy Factory marched through the streets of Hengli township after the company suddenly declared bankruptcy on Wednesday.

They held banners reading, "Unscrupulous boss, give us back our blood and sweat!" and "The year is ending; I want to go home!" in a reference to the Lunar New Year holiday later this month.

They gathered outside the Hengli government buildings, demanding their wages, as police surrounded the building.

Photos of the protest posted online showed large numbers of people in factory workers' uniforms standing outside the gates of the government building, facing off with riot police with batons and shields. Others showed gatherings of workers at the Chuangying factory site.

The protest, which was also attended by a heavy police presence, came after the Chuangying factory became the latest in a string of dozens of Dongguan factories to feel the effects of falling demand from the U.S. and Europe amid the global economic downturn.

Falling orders

The factory had been struggling since last year with falling orders in the wake of the global financial crisis, local residents said.

The protesters called on local officials to intervene to ensure their wages were paid, according to a local resident surnamed Luo.

"There were a lot of people there, probably around 1,000," Luo said. "They are owed several months of back pay."

She said Hengli township had seen a number of similar protests in recent months.

"There were a lot of police and security personnel there," Luo said. "There have been a lot of incidents of this kind in Hengli."

According to the overeas-based rights website, China Jasmine Revolution, Chuangying still owed its 1,000-strong work force three months' wages at the time it declared itself bankrupt.

Calls to the Chuangying factory offices went unanswered during office hours on Thursday.

An official who answered the phone at the Hengli township government said he was unaware of the details of the incident.

"There hasn't been anything [like that] today," the official said. "Of course [the government] is taking [the matter] very seriously."

However, an official who answered the phone at 4.00 p.m. local time at the government's civil welfare department said the workers had now all been paid up to date.

"The workers have all got their money now, but I don't know who paid out," he said.

'Calmer now'

A labor affairs bureau official surnamed Zhang said all the workers were back in the residential area of the factory on Thursday.

"They aren't as worked up as they were before, and our leaders and government workers have gone to the factory to sort out this matter," she said. "The workers are all much calmer now."

According to a former Chuangying worker surnamed Wang, Chuangying was set up in 1986, one of a large number of Hong Kong-invested toy factories in the area, and had 10 production facilities and more than 10,000 workers at the height of international demand.

The remaining work force numbers just over 1,000, based at two remaining factories, she said.

"Most of the workers are from other provinces," Wang said. "There aren't many who are from around here."

"A lot of factories I used to work at [as a summer job] have gone bankrupt since the financial crisis of last year," she said.

"When I used to go there before, they were packed with people, but the small factories and particularly the bigger factories are going bankrupt now."

Reported by Qiao Long for RFA's Mandarin service and by Fung Yat-yiu for the Cantonese service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.

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