Thousands of schoolteachers in the southern Chinese province of Henan continued a sit-in and demonstration outside the gates of government offices on Monday, as their strike over pay and conditions entered its 14th day.
Around 2,000 teachers from Henan's Wuyang county marched on Monday to government buildings in Luohe city, following mass protests of more than 5,000 teachers at the weekend, participants told RFA.
"The teachers are still going out there [to join the protest]," a striking teacher surnamed Wang said on Monday.
"There are still teachers outside the north gate of the Luohe municipal government, and at the train station," he said.
"There are still about 2,000 of them there right now," Wang said, adding that the authorities had responded by sending groups of officials to schools in the county to persuade the teachers to call off their strike.
"There are a few isolated individuals who have stopped striking, but there are still teachers going out," Wang said.
The protesters are angry that teachers employed by Luohe municipal government make nearly twice as much money as those in the rural counties and districts of Yancheng, Yuanhui, Shaoling, Linying, and Wuyang.
They also accuse the authorities of withholding statutory pay increases for teachers in qualifying schools in those counties, some of whom make just 2,000 yuan (U.S.$320) a month for a 10-hour working day, sources close to the protests said.
'Teachers fight for their rights'
"For example, you could get two schools right next door to each other, one of which comes under county control and the other under district control," a teacher surnamed Chen told RFA.
"They are both in a rural area, but the salaries aren't the same," he said.
Demonstrations on Saturday swelled to more than 5,000 participants, who were shown in online photos carrying banners and placards with the slogan, "Teachers fight for their rights, and their salaries."
Others marched in hats and face masks in a protest that filled the streets and reached several hundred meters in length, social media reports said.
The teachers were met by several hundred police drafted in by the local government to line the streets, while official vehicles carried loudhailers which police used to read out sections of China's Demonstration Law and Teachers' Law to the crowd, eyewitnesses said.
"The protests were pretty big on Saturday, with 5,000 or 6,000 people," Wang said. "The teachers used peaceful protest methods, and walked alongside the river, while the police didn't taken any action against them."
'Ringleaders will be dealt with'
Chen said the government was taking a hardline attitude to the teachers' demands, however.
"The leaders are basically taking the attitude that if the teachers think their pay is too low, they can quit or go somewhere else where it's higher," he said.
"They are saying that the ringleaders will be dealt with, and that further demonstrations or blockades of government buildings will be regarded as a breach of public order and will be dealt with through jail sentences and arrests, or by preventing us from working as teachers again," Chen said.
"All the school principals have had a letter flatly ordering them to get their own teachers back in line, and to make them stop their protest, and that there are to be no more incidents," he said.
"How can the teachers take on the government, when they are dependent on the government?" Chen said.
Wang said the teachers had so far garnered widespread support among the local community, including government officials at county level.
"This is because their salaries are very low," he said.
He said the strike look set to continue, in spite of official warnings.
"We will keep it up ... because the government is unlikely to send out an order for a pay rise, because then there will be a domino effect," Wang said.
Meanwhile, in neighboring Hubei province, several hundred retired non-civil-service teachers gathered outside the headquarters of the provincial education department on Monday in protest at a lack of pension payouts following their retirement.
Teachers in China can be hired on civil service or non-civil service contracts, and those on the latter frequently complain of wages that are below a minimum living standard and often go unpaid for months.
Directive No. 32, issued by the central authorities in 1997, called on local governments to put all teachers on civil service contracts, which carry higher wages and more benefits, including a retirement pension. But cash-strapped local authorities have dragged their feet over the new rules.
A Hubei education official met with the retired teachers, but talks broke down without any tangible progress, sources close to the protests told RFA.
The teachers said they would renew their sit-in on Tuesday.
China's army of petitioners, who often include former teachers, say they are repeatedly stonewalled, detained in "black jails," beaten, and harassed by authorities if they try to take complaints against local government actions to higher levels of government.
Reported by Jiang Pei for RFA's Mandarin Service and by Lin Jing for the Cantonese Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.