China Labour Action Express No. 41 (2004-01-27)

Each month, China Labour Bulletin monitors and investigates numerous cases of worker unrest and protest from all over China. These incidents range from low-level complaints about wage arrears or working conditions; to lawsuits against employers or collective petitions to the local government and labour bureaus; to major industrial slow-downs, strikes or public demonstrations by workers and their families. Wherever possible, China Labour Bulletin tries to interview representatives of all the various parties involved in these disputes – including the workers and their families, enterprise or management officials, local trade union (ACFTU) representatives, and local government officials.

The following are several selected summaries of recent major cases of worker unrest that we have monitored, based on our direct interviews with the workers and other people concerned. The complete audio files of most of these telephone interviews, together with full English translations of selected interviews, can be found on our website. (Please note that there will be a delay before the English transcripts become available.)

Teacher’s protests in Guangdong Province violently dispersed

From 1 to 3 December, more than 800 teachers, mainly community teachers , gathered in front of the municipal government offices in Leizhou, Guangdong. The protestors were graduates from local teacher-training colleges and tertiary-level institutes and were demanding that the government fulfill the promise it made to them in 2000 - namely to transfer them into the higher paid classification of public teachers. [Throughout China it was announced in 2000 that the authorities would phase out the dual classification of teachers and retrain low paid community teachers transforming them into public teachers – in most places, this promise was not fulfilled].

According to the protestors, the protest was led by the classroom teacher-training officials. One local teacher told CLB that the teachers’ representatives had brought along loud-hailers to inspire and lead the crowd when the local mayor and the education department chief came to talk with the protestors. Another teacher interviewed by CLB, confirmed reports that the police had caused one pregnant protestor to miscarry during the violent dispersal of the protestors on 3 December.

A teacher from Leigao town in Leizhou City, told CLB that his wife, a community teacher, had not received wages for a 12 month period – since June 2003. The teacher added that this was common and indeed all of those who had become teachers since 2000, as well as all temporary teachers, had not received wages for the last 12 months. He also informed CLB of the sharp distinction between public teachers and community teachers in Leizhou. For example, a public teacher like him, who started teaching in 1991, earns some 900 Yuan after insurance deductions every month, however, his wife, who also started working in 1991 as a community teacher, earns only 250 Yuan.

Another teacher told CLB that after three days of successive protests, the municipal government agreed to hold a recruitment examination for the city’s 1,060 teachers from teacher-training colleges and tertiary-level institutes. However, the leaders of the protest - namely the classroom officials - were told by the municipal government that they would be punished in retaliation for the protests and would not be employed [as public teachers] even if they passed the examination.

When asked if they were willing to take legal action under the Labour Law in pursuit of their claims, a teacher informed CLB that although they all knew the government was violating the law, they dared not take the government to court. They said that if they took legal action they would upset the government and the education department which has the final say in deciding a teacher’s employment. Nobody was willing to stick their job on the line and file a lawsuit. The teachers said that even the protest leaders, who were already targets of government retaliation would not take legal action against the government until the examination was over.

In October 2003, the teachers had also protested to the local authorities. However, they dispersed after officials told them it had insufficient funds and had asked them to be patient. After this initial protest, community teachers and other teachers who had graduated from teacher-training colleges and tertiary-level institutes, were each given 300 Yuan every month backdated from July 2003. However, temporary teachers were not covered in the new agreement.

When CLB tried to obtain statements from the local authorities on the case, government officials refused to confirm the reports of the protesting teacher’s miscarriage and also refused to answer any questions concerning the alleged wage arrears.

For more information on education in China and the divisions between teachers in China please see Teachers and education in China - underfunded and undervalued for links to reports, research and cases.

Taxi drivers protests in Changchun City, Jilin Province - one protestor beaten

Some 500 taxi-owners in Changchun have been gathering in front of the Shuangyang district government since 16 December 2003 demanding reductions in various charges and levies on taxis. The protest was triggered by the Shuangyang Government’s recent decision authorizing the running of 3 public minibus lines within the district and awarding all 3 routes to one private company. The company also received a three-year exemption from all taxes. This favourable treatment means that the new minibus operator can set the fares at the low rate of 50 cents per person as compared to the higher cost of a taxi at around 2 Yuan per person. The taxi drivers are asking the government to grant them the same favourable tax-exempt status.

A local government official informed CLB that although the protest was sparked by a genuine problem for the taxi-owners, he dismissed the protestors as selfish and inconsiderate of the interests of the whole population. Another official from Shuangyang District’s Transport Bureau admitted that there had been no consultation with the taxi owners on the new policy, but claimed that taxi-owners had themselves enjoyed tax-exempt status when their certificates of operation were first issued.

However, one protestor, who had bought her taxi with funds from her retrenchment compensation after she had been laid off from the local government grain bureau, told CLB that she had never enjoyed any form of tax-free status nor any discounts on operating charges. She said the protesting taxi-drivers were merely calling for fair competition with the new minibuses and that they wanted to enjoy the same favourable terms as the minibus operator. She also informed CLB that the protestors were in process of electing representatives to negotiate with the government. However they were still unsure about how to establish an election and whom they would elect.

During the protest, on 17 December, one taxi driver, who was trying to persuade his fellow protestors to talk to the government instead of staging a demonstration, was apprehended by the police for “talking too much”. According to sources, he tried to run away but was pushed to the ground, breaking his leg in the process. He was then beaten by officers.

According to the injured driver’s father, their family is in a difficult situation as all five family members were supported by the injured son. The father was classified as an “intellectual’ in the late 1960s and sent to the countryside in 1971, working as a party secretary in the village for many years. After finishing service in the countryside he was transferred back to Shuangyang but was not given a job. His wife is also unemployed and ill. The couple receives no minimum living allowance from the government. His son, the injured driver, has a 5-month old baby and an unemployed wife to support. The father wants to take legal action to hold the police responsible for his son’s injury but the family cannot afford to hire a lawyer.

[See Chinese audio interviews on 18 December and 27 December – English transcript to follow]

More than 100 farm workers in Mao Zedong’s birthplace protest against restructuring - 16 reportedly detained

On the morning of 24 December, more than 100 protesters, staged a sit-in in front of the Paragon Hotel, Xiangtan, where a celebratory party in honour of the 110th anniversary of Mao Zedong’s birth was being held. The protestors were workers from the former Xiangtan Hongqi Farm, who were deeply affected by the massive restructuring of the farm. The workers decided to hold the protest at the Paragon hotel because the hotel’s director was also the leader of the Farm. In view of the high profile nature of the demonstration police officers were quickly sent to the hotel and the protest was violently dispersed. Scores of workers were apprehended and it was reported that some 16 were arrested. [Mao Zedong was born in the small town of Shaoshan, some 40 kilometres from Xiangtan in Hunan Province.]

[See Chinese audio interview on 25 December - English transcript to follow]

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