Unpaid Social Security Fuels Spike in Chinese Labor Disputes: Report

china-chongqing-foxconn-strike-oct-2104.jpg Workers from the local Foxconn factory go on strike in Chongqing, China, Oct. 8, 2014.

The number of strikes by Chinese industrial workers doubled in the past three months compared with the same period last year, as social tensions take hold amid the global economic slowdown.

The Hong Kong-based China Labor Bulletin (CLB) recorded a total of 372 industrial disputes in the third quarter of this year, with 185 incidents in September alone, it said in a report on its website on Tuesday.

It said the increase in numbers is partly due to better publicity of strike action via social media.

But there has also been a spike in strike activity in the construction industry and in China's poorer hinterland, CLB said.

"Strike action is clearly spreading both geographically and across industrial sectors," it said.

It said the last quarter also saw growing calls for full social security payments, after the issue was highlighted by a huge strike at the Yue Yuen shoe factory in southern China's Guangdong province.

"Workers are now much more aware of the issue," it said.

Factory strikes

Earlier this month, more than 1,000 employees went on strike at a factory owned by Hewlett-Packard and Apple suppliers Foxconn in the southwestern megacity of Chongqing after management slashed workers' overtime hours in response to falling orders, the U.S.-based China Labor Watch said.

In September, thousands of workers at Taiwan-owned screen manufacturers Wintek LCD Co. went on strike to protest cuts in expected bonus payments and their allowance of traditional mooncakes.

Last week, workers in the southwestern province of Guizhou went on strike as part of a wider, countywide protest against government land grabs in Sanhui County.

Industrial action in China often involves violent clashes with police, who are routinely sent in in the event of protests or "mass incidents."

Police were called to 117 of the strikes recorded by CLB in the third quarter, and arrests were made in 31 of those cases, the report said.

But it also noted a rise in the number of disputes which ended peacefully, citing a two-month strike by workers at a jewelry factory in Guangdong's Foshan city, which ended in government-backed negotiations with management.

"The workers...won support from the local government and the municipal federation of unions, and forced the boss to sit down and negotiate with them over social security, overtime and housing fund payments," CLB's report said.

"In the end, the company agreed to pay out millions of yuan in compensation."

The report said 16 of the strikes in the third quarter of 2014 were linked to social security issues, compared with just six in the same period of 2013.

According to a recent report by China Labor Watch, local governments in China fear forcing investors to leave their area if they confront them over huge amounts of unpaid social security payments required under Chinese labor law.

"Migrant workers do not receive proper protection of their pensions from local governments," CLB said in a July article on its website.

Last year, only 15.7 percent of China's millions of migrant workers had a pension, while just 9.1 percent had unemployment insurance, it quoted government figures as saying.

Property prices

Another factor driving strikes is the collapse of Chinese property prices, hitting developers, who then delay payments to the construction workforce, CLB said.

"In these situations, it is the construction workers who are always the last to be paid," it said.

According to CLB founder Han Dongfang, some of the striking workers are able to do deals of some sort with management, but the core problem still remains, making further major disputes inevitable.

"While these actions can sometimes result in a better deal for the workers, they are never more than a quick fix," Han wrote in an article for the Equal Times.

"All too often another strike will break out six months or a year down the line because there is no mechanism in place that allows workers to engage in good faith bargaining," he wrote.

But he said Chinese workers are also increasingly demanding that management enter into a dialogue with them as equal partners.

Reported by Lin Ping for RFA's Mandarin 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.