Wage arrears cases continue to dominate worker protests in November

By Jennifer Cheung

Despite some signs of an economic upturn in China, the vast majority of worker protests continue to be over wage arrears and compensation for factory relocations. CLB noted at least 118 protests and strikes in November. However many of these reports lacked sufficient detail to be included on the CLB strike map.

The official manufacturing PMI was 50.6 in November, the highest in seven months, indicating accelerating growth in the manufacturing sector. However the employment indicator was 48.7 percent and has been below 50 percent for six consecutive months showing that demand for labour in the manufacturing sector keeps shrinking.

Most wage arrears disputes were in the construction industry as workers sought to get their back pay before the end of the year. Guangdong saw 20 wage arrears cases, followed by Shenzhen (eight cases) and Hubei (eight cases). There were also a few wage arrears that were triggered by factory bankruptcies, including an electronics factory and a textile factory in Dongguan. And in Jiangsu on 20 November, around 40 security guards at a housing complex went on strike in protest at wage arrears.

CLB recorded 12 strikes in November, mostly caused by factory restructuring or relocation. In late November, around 3,000 workers at US-owned Transpower Electric Products in Shenzhen staged a strike demanding compensation after the company announced a merger. At Japanese-owned Chi Chi Bu Industry in Shenzhen, nearly 1,000 workers protested for two consecutive days demanding compensation prior to the factory’s relocation. According to one report, workers’ representatives started negotiating with the management but no agreement had been reached as of the third day of the strike.

It is indicative of the current economic climate, that we did not see any strikes in November that were related to demands for higher pay.

Strikes and protests continue to attract the attention of local governments and police, and in three cases in Guangdong, it was reported that workers were talking with management in a bid to resolve the dispute. However, there is little information about how successful if at all these negotiations have been.

There were no reports of workers being arrested or suffering from management retaliation this month; however the dismissal or detention of workers’ representatives remains a major threat to workers’ collective action. Sixteen workers, who were sacked last year after staging a strike for higher pay at the Ricoh factory in Shenzhen, went to court last week demanding compensation for illegal dismissal. Their lawsuit failed in this instance but their lawyer said they are planning to appeal.

In another case, a week-long work stoppage triggered by a factory relocation plan, escalated after reports of management violence. The strike started on 22 November at Yazaki Auto Parts in Shantou, and initially involved 100 workers but later expanded to 3,000 workers after rumours spread that female workers had been beaten by a Japanese manager.

According to some reports, the factory management wanted to disclose what had happened but the local government ordered the company not to release relevant videos on the Internet until it had completed an investigation. However by the time the municipal government finished its investigation on 28 November, the rumour of a Japanese manager beating Chinese workers had already been reported by the Japanese Kyodo News and Hong Kong’s Phoenix TV, and went viral on the popular social media portals. When the videos finally were released, they showed workers injured on a cramped staircase in a scuffle with security guards; not being beaten by a manger.

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