HONG KONG—More than 100 laid-off elementary school teachers in central China petitioned the local government Tuesday over retirement pensions, members of the group said.
The teachers, who work for the education system in Dawu county of central China’s Hubei province, said they were angered over back premiums they would have to pay to be eligible to receive their pensions.
One protesting teacher surnamed Liu said the group had gathered in front of the county government’s Letter and Visit Office early Tuesday morning.
“Around 100 teachers have come, and we are petitioning over retirement pensions,” Liu said.
“The government asked us to pay 20,000 yuan (U.S. $2,928), but we’ve never had so much money in our whole life. How can we afford that?” he asked.
The teachers said that before they were laid off, their salaries were very low.
The local government recently agreed to offer the teachers a retirement pension, but informed the group that they would have to pay past premiums from 1996 in order to receive it.
The premiums over the past 13 years would cost each teacher 18,000 to 20,000 yuan (U.S. $2,635 to $2,928).
Another teacher at the protest surnamed Zhang said it should be the government’s responsibility to cover the cost of the premium.
“We worked for three decades and now we are laid off. The government must pay the premium for us,” he said.
Liu said that teachers have petitioned various government offices at different levels, but each had shifted responsibility to the others.
“When we petitioned the central government in Beijing, they asked us to go to Hubei province. When we went to the provincial government we were blocked or hauled off by county officials,” Liu said.
Supervisor Wu of the Letter and Visit Office of Dawu County denied that teachers were petitioning when asked about the incident, adding that he was on business out of town.
“There is no petitioning at all. The situation in our county is very good, so why would people petition?” Wu asked.
“The teachers are just coming to learn more about government policy—you’d better not listen to them,” he said.
Liu said Wu was lying and that the government is aware of the teachers’ demands.
“A petition is exactly what this is! All of us are here. Another supervisor received us and promised to give us an answer before next Friday,” he said.
Machine workers protest
In a separate development on Monday, around 100 laid-off workers in China’s southwestern Sichuan province also petitioned the local government over retirement pension, leading to a scuffle with police.
The workers, from the Changjiang No. 2 Hydraulic Machinery Factory in Luzhou city, had been laid off in 1990s, but had been informed that their benefits would end after the factory was recently sold to a real estate developer.
A protester who asked to remain anonymous said the workers had been forced to petition the government for assistance at the Luzhou city hall.
“Workers are now extremely anxious because the new owner will no longer take care of us. This is why we have to petition the government to pay attention to our benefits,” the worker said.
But rather than hear the concerns of the protesting workers, the Luzhou city government dispatched about 100 police officers to confront the workers, leading to a scuffle between the two groups.
The anonymous worker said the confrontation between elderly workers and young policemen left several protesters injured.
“Our workers are all in their 70s or 80s, but the police are all in their 20s and 30s, so you can imagine what happened when the two groups began to push and pull at each other,” the worker said.
“Three old workers were injured and sent to the hospital in ambulances. According to other protesters, the three remained in hospital at least through Monday night.”
Attempts to contact local officials by telephone went unanswered.
Fears for stability
The head of China's judiciary called on courts to maintain social stability earlier this year amid the global economic slowdown, saying the number of labor disputes had jumped by 94 percent in the first 10 months of 2008, compared with the same period the year before.
The "Regulation on Petitions" issued by China's State Council states that petitioners may voice their grievances to higher-level government offices. But those trying to do so are frequently held in unofficial detention centers, or "black jails," before being taken back to their hometowns.
Many petitioners have spent years pursuing complaints against local officials over disputes including the loss of homes and farmland, unpaid wages and pensions, or alleged mistreatment by the authorities.
Parents of children affected by the tainted milk powder scandal, and those who lost children when schools collapsed during the Sichuan earthquake, have recently joined their numbers.
Few report getting a satisfactory result, and most say they have become a target of further harassment by the authorities.
Original reporting by Qiao Long and Fang Yuan for RFA’s Mandarin service. Mandarin service director: Jennifer Chou. Translated by Ping Chen. Written for the Web in English by Joshua Lipes. Edited by Sarah Jackson-Han.