Dozens of workers at a supermarket chain in southern China that was once owned by U.K. retail giant Tesco went on strike this week in protest at deteriorating pay and conditions since the chain was sold to a Chinese company.
Workers at the LeGou chain of supermarkets, in which Tesco has held a 20 percent stake since signing a joint venture with China Resources in May 2014, gathered outside stores on Friday in Guangdong's Guangzhou, Dongguan, and Shenzhen cities on Friday, photos posted to social media sites showed.
Some held banners that read: "Equal treatment. Respect your work force! China Resources, treat us fairly again!"
Others read: "We want the rule of law!" and "China Resources, give me back my youth, sweat, and blood!"
A resident of Hengjie township near Dongguan confirmed that the LeGou workers were striking in her neighborhood.
"The doors of the store are open, but nobody is on the checkout," she said.
"They are saying that they have been unfairly treated since China Resources took them over," the resident said.
"[They are gathered] by the door," she said. "There were more than 100 people there, some of them sitting down, and some holding placards."
Drop in pay, benefits
According to social media posts, employees say they have seen a deterioration in their pay and benefits since China Resources took over the running of the chain last year.
Tesco sold its Chinese chain to state-owned conglomerate China Resources Enterprise (CRE), taking a 20 percent stake in a joint venture deal instead, according to its 2014 annual report.
The joint venture combined Tesco's existing chain of 134 stores and shopping mall businesses, built up since 2004, with CRE's 2,986 stores across China.
Tesco plowed some U.S.$560 million into the joint venture, and has two seats on the 10-member board.
CRE chief executive officer Hong Jie said at the time that the joint venture would combine "local customer insights and international retail best practice."
Growing number of disputes
China has seen 1,041 industrial disputes since the beginning of the year, 145 of which have been clustered in the once-booming manufacturing regions of Guangdong, the Hong Kong-based China Labour Bulletin said.
Last month, workers at a bankrupt supermarket in the central province of Henan protested over wage arrears, the China Labour Bulletin's Strike Map showed.
Eight similar protests and strikes have hit the country's retail industry since Jan. 1, many of them over wage arrears, it said.
An April report by the group said China's official trade union, backed by the ruling Chinese Communist Party, has "consistently failed" to protect the interests of the country's workers.
"This failure has been particularly apparent over the last two years; a period of enhanced labor activism in which the need for a properly functioning trade union has become ever more urgent," it said.
China Resources Enterprise is the listed subsidiary of China Resources Holdings with holdings in retail, beverage, food processing and distribution, textiles, and real estate in Hong Kong and mainland China.
Reported by Yang Fan for RFA's Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.