HONG KONG—Hundreds of workers, including former soldiers, drafted to work at a factory in the central Chinese province of Henan have brought traffic to a standstill after they staged a sit-in outside the factory gates to demand payments and benefits they say they were owed after being laid off.
"It started on April 27 with about 300 people and went on until about 6 p.m., with the workers blocking the road outside the factory for a whole day," a protesting worker surnamed Wang said.
"There was no response whatsoever from the factory. Yesterday we tried to get a meeting with senior management, but no one would pay any attention to us," he said. "So we thought about it and decided to block National Highway No. 107. We blocked all three intersections of Highway 107."
They kept telling us to go back to Henan and talk to the factory, but that didn't solve anything."
Protesting worker, Chen
He said the police had come out in large numbers to try to start traffic flowing freely again, followed by the mayor, police chief, and Communist Party secretary of Anyang city.
"They went and talked to the factory leaders and asked them to give us back our money, but they didn't agree to it," Wang said, adding that around 200 workers had staged a demonstration in Anyang Wednesday, but with no response.
Planned Beijing protest
"The next step is we plan to stage a demonstration in Beijing. If they don't give us back our money we will definitely go to Beijing," he said.
The workers were taken on by Henan Ancai Hi-Tech Co. in 1996.
The company currently employs more than 3,000 workers, nearly 300 of whom are former People's Liberation Army (PLA) soldiers.
Regardless of their status in the military, they were taken on as temporary workers at the factory making color monitors and other electronic components, and paid an hourly rate with no health benefits or employment contract.
Their total salary was around 600 yuan (U.S. $88) per month, only a fraction of that paid to permanent workers doing the same job. Their status was changed to that of permanent employees in 2006.
Now, they are demanding back pay from the factory to make up for the 10 years they worked on greatly reduced wages.
They are also calling for the remaining 30 percent of money the company raised from them, in some cases in the tens of thousands of yuan, to finance its expansion beginning in 2001, according to a worker surnamed Chen.
Chen, who tried to petition on behalf of the Ancai workers in Beijing in 2005, said he had been to the capital more than 20 times before being detained by the authorities and fired by the company.
Chen said that he had managed to retrieve some of his money from Henan Ancai, but that his fellow petitioners had received nothing.
"They kept telling us to go back to Henan and talk to the factory, but that didn't solve anything," he said.
An employee who answered the phone at Henan Ancai's Anyang factory said the company was in discussions with its workers over the dispute.
"As consultations are still under way, it's hard for me to give you concrete details about how we are solving the dispute," the employee said.
Labor disputes in China doubled last year following a wave of factory closures and layoffs in China's once-booming coastal cities.
China's leaders have warned of increasing social unrest sparked by the global economic downturn.
Original reporting in Mandarin by Fang Yuan and in Cantonese by Grace Kei Lai-see. Mandarin service director: Jennifer Chou. Cantonese service director: Shiny Li. Translated and written for the Web in English by Luisetta Mudie. Edited by Sarah Jackson-Han.