Retiree Protesters Face Harassment from Chinese Police


2004-01-12
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Protesters who demonstrated outside the offices of a petrochemical firm in China's southern province of Guangdong against what they claim is an unfair pension plan say they have been subject to harassment by local police, RFA's Cantonese service reports.

One active participant in the protests, Zheng Jinghai, 64, told RFA police went to his house to try to persuade him not to lead the protest. "I did not let the police in. They are trying to threaten us, scare us away, to dissolve the protest movement. Two other retirees were also approached by police," he said.

Another worker who spoke with RFA last week, who asked to be identified by his surname, Yang, said Friday he believed his telephone was bugged. "My friends said they couldn't reach me at my home. None of the phone calls could get through. I'm using my cell phone to communicate right now."

Yang and Zheng have been unreachable by telephone since Friday.

The protesters — ; retired workers with the state-owned China Petrochemical Co. — ; first gathered in December outside the company's offices in Maoming in the southwest of the province and have been protesting sporadically since.

The retirees say each demonstration has drawn more than 1,000 people. A company spokesman, however, said the number of protesters had never exceeded 1,000.

The protestors claim that, according to a document from the central government, their pension plan should be decided at the provincial, not municipal, level.

"Last year, Guangdong Province raised its monthly pension by 12 percent. But we got only a 4 percent raise," said a 62-year-old China Petro retiree named Wu.

"Our workers are not making an unreasonable demand," Yang said. "We wanted only for the pension fund to match the provincial level. Most of the people have worked for the company for years. And now it's gone public with annual production of three trillion yuan (U.S. $37 billion). The company is in good shape."

Yang said the substandard pension raise was unjustified given current business conditions and the high rate of inflation in the province. "It should take care of its retired workers when it has the ability," he said.

While protests continued throughout last week, Zheng said China Petrochemical delivered an open letter to the protesters pleading for more time to resolve the problem. They also asked the retirees to refrain from holding large-scale petitions and not to besiege the company's office building.

Because of the approaching Chinese New Year, the retirees have suspended the daily protests. Zheng said protests would continue after the New Year if no moves are made by the company.

"We are not trying to create any trouble. We were forced into this situation. Prices are going up and our income is going down. We elderly people have nothing to rely on," he said. Zheng said his currently monthly pension is about 1,100 yuan (U.S. $132).

Zheng, who worked for the Maoming branch of China Petrochemical from 1958-2001, said the Maoming office promised to send the company�s party secretary to talk to the provincial government. A manager will also be sent to China Petrochemical's headquarters in Beijing to report the situation.

A spokesman for the Maoming office denied that any protest had taken place. "That wasn't a protest — ; it was just some people petitioning. That's very normal," the official said.

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