Shandong Mine Workers Strike Over Months of Back Pay, Bonuses

china-shandong-mine-strike-jan-2015-crop.jpg Coal mine workers demand unpaid wages and benefits at the municipal government office in Tengzhou, Jan. 4, 2014.
Photo courtesy of a worker

Hundreds of workers at a state-run coal mine in the eastern Chinese province of Shandong are on strike following clashes at the weekend amid protests over unpaid wages and benefits, workers said on Monday.

Around half the workforce at the Jinda mine near Shandong's Tengzhou city continued to strike on Monday after crowds of more than 1,000 people began gathering outside municipal government offices at the beginning of the year, sparking clashes with police on Sunday.

Local sources told RFA that one worker sustained head injuries in the clashes and was taken to hospital for treatment, while six people were detained at the scene.

"They owe us five months' back pay, so this affects everyone at the mine," a striking worker who gave only a nickname A Ming said.

He said the strike action had continued on Monday.

"We're still not back in production," he said. "Some of the workers went to their work stations today, but they just hung out there."

Six workers, four men and two women, were detained during Sunday's mass protest, but were later released, he added.

Holiday affected

"They promised they would give us two months' worth [of back pay] ahead of the New Year, but instead they are doing 'ideological work' with us," A Ming said.

He said the workers "had no idea" why the company was having trouble meeting its wage bill.

"I really can't answer that," he said.

The strike comes just weeks ahead of the annual Chinese New Year celebrations, when millions of migrant workers traditionally make the trip home to spend time with their families, bringing gifts of money, luxury food and drink, and new clothes.

An employee surnamed Jin who answered the phone at a coal-washing contractor in Jinda's supply chain confirmed that the mine had ceased production.

"Some 1,000 to 2,000 people are affected, like a chain reaction," Jin said. "They all went to the municipal government to protest."

"We don't know where the money went, but the fact is, they can't pay these wages," he said.

Failure to pay

A list of the workers' demands posted to Chinese social media said the company had failed to pay out a traditional year-end bonus in 2013, and had also failed to pay out workers' regular wages in January and February 2014, as well as October through December 2014.

It said the company had also failed to make mandatory health insurance and pension payments for "several months."

"If things go on like this, we don't know how we are to live," the statement said.

An employee who answered the phone at the Jinda mine on Monday declined to comment on the dispute.

"I can't answer your questions right now," the employee said. "I won't give you an interview."

Further calls to the Jinda mine and to the Tengzhou municipal government offices rang unanswered during office hours on Monday.

Growth 'a priority'

The Jinda mine is one of a number controlled by the Chenlong Energy Group, which was set up by the ruling Chinese Communist Party leadership in Tengzhou in 2005 to meet growing demand for coal.

Under Chinese labor law, employers must pay a "social insurance" contribution on behalf of employees covering pension, health care, unemployment, accident insurances, maternity, and severance pay.

Local governments in China are responsible for enforcing labor law and for ensuring that workers' rights are protected.

But according to the Hong Kong-based rights group China Labour Bulletin, local labor departments lack the staff, funding, and political clout to enforce these laws, amid a climate in which economic growth is the top priority of cash-strapped governments.

"It has largely been up to the workers themselves to ensure that the law is enforced," the group said in a recent article on its website.

Reported by Wen Yuqing for RFA's Cantonese Service, and by Qiao Long for the Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.


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