Shandong Teachers on Strike over Wage Arrears

(Broadcast on 2001-11-21)

On the morning of November 21, 2001, all 160 or more teachers from the Qing Yun Number One Middle School in Xintai city, Shandong province went on strike over wage arrears. Over the previous two years, a total of five months' wages had not been paid. A local citizen familiar with the situation telephoned the CLB hotline to report the incident.

Citizen:

Starting with the first lesson this morning, there were no teachers working. This is because they are owed a total of five months' wages. Two months from last year [2000] and three months from this year. On top of this, average monthly wages have dropped by close to Rmb 300, and they are drawing about four or five hundred a month. There haven't been any reimbursements [for medical fees] for more than five years.

I telephoned the Xintai government's Education Committee where a cadre told me he didn't know anything about the incident. He also said that the five leading education officials were not in the office. Three were accompanying a provincial inspection team making a tour of towns and villages and the other two were in Jiangsu province, taking a study mission.

Education Office:

Haven't heard about it. Nobody here is aware of it. The five chief officers are away and the director isn't here either.

Han:

The director's not in the office?

Education Office:

That's right.

Han:

Well in a situation like this when teachers are actually on strike, shouldn't the Education Committee be dealing with it?

Education Office:

Er…deal with it…because they are all away… I don't know [anything about this].

Han:

Well I am telling you about it now, so are you going to go down there and see what's going on?

Education Office:

I'll get on to the leaders about it later, when they get back. How's that?

Han:

When will your department leaders be back?

Education Office:

There is an inspection in the province and three of them accompanied the inspection [team] to the townships. The other two have gone south an on observe and study trip.

The Xintai city government also said they hadn't heard anything about the strike. But they did say they would make inquiries for me at the City Complaints Bureau.

Government Office:

A strike? Haven't heard anything about it!

Han:

Well I am telling you about it now. Will the city government intervene and find a solution?

Government Office:

There is a complaints bureau here, specially set up for dealing with [this kind of thing]. If there is a problem then you go the complaints bureau, right? I'll speak to them afterwards OK? You're talking about the Qing Yun Number One Middle School?

Han:

Correct.

Government Office:

It's about wage arrears?

Han:

Yes, yes.

Government Office:

I'll get on to them for you.

The branch secretary of the school's Communist Youth League (CYL) told me what was going on at the school.

CYL Branch Secretary:

They've all gone home.

Han:

They are all at home now?

CYL Branch Secretary:

Yes. They've gone home. It's because their wages haven't been issued.

Han:

Is there any way out of this deadlock?

CYL Branch Secretary:

There are no formal lessons and the students are taking free study periods.

Han:

None of the teachers are taking lessons and the students are in free study?

CYL Branch Secretary:

Yes, yes.

Han:

How many students does the school have altogether?

CYL Branch Secretary:

Three thousand, nearly 3,500.

Han:

Three thousand five hundred?

CYL Branch Secretary:

Yes.

I then telephoned the Xintai Federation of Trade Unions (XFTU) and spoke to the deputy chairperson who answered the phone:

Deputy Chair:

Eh? I don't know about this. You heard this via…how did you hear about this?

Han:

The teachers telephoned me to tell us about it.

Deputy Chair:

I don't know about it.

Han:

Is the problem of teachers' wage arrears widespread?

Deputy Chair:

Er…yes, in the [rural] townships it's very serious. Wages [under the city administration] are not in arrears. In the townships and villages, the teachers and the government officers are paid at the same time. If the government officers aren't paid, the teachers won't be paid either.

Han:

You're saying wages are not in arrears in the [Xintai] city?

Deputy Chair:

Yes. It's the townships. Right now, it's a very common problem and it is not easy to solve. They [the government] do not have the financial resources. There are township and village teachers and government officers who have only just received last May's wages! We've got some enterprises down here that haven't paid wages for years.

However, when I phoned the local citizen who was fully aware of the whole situation, [he told me that] the wages of government officials had just been issued, but the teachers hadn't received a penny. It was this that brought them out on strike.

Citizen:

The teachers have been to the city government. They have tried that on a number of occasions. Then [they] heard it being put about that some leaders had been paid, but they still hadn't. They were furious and went on strike.

Han:

When did they get this information?

Citizen:

Yesterday.

Han:

They heard about it yesterday, and they went on strike today?

Citizen:

Yes, that's correct.

Han:

So everybody has been unhappy about the wage arrears for some time, but the problem suddenly blew up [into a strike] because some wages were paid unfairly. [i.e. some government officials got paid and the teachers didn't - Ed].

Citizen:

You got it.

According to this listener, the teachers' strike action was entirely spontaneous. It had not involved any prior contact or notice to the local government or the school authorities. Why?

Citizen:

The teachers are scared. Any organisers who stuck their necks out would be sitting ducks and scared of being targeted for revenge. Anyone taking the initiative would be dealt with. So the teachers are afraid of saying anything openly. They all came out without any prior planning. It was spontaneous. No one is going to stick his neck out when as soon as you go and organise something, you will be subjected to disciplinary action. We have the Teachers Law to govern [the system] and the teachers [should have] rights and wages. But the actual situation is that teachers are not receiving wages and no one is sorting it out. Who do you go to, who do you sue?

Han:

Is there a trade union at the school?

Citizen:

The union? It's a decoration.

Is the trade union really a decoration? Let's listen to XFTU deputy chairperson again.

Deputy Chair:

In this case they…have seriously violated the labour law…but there is no rule by law. They [the government] have no money so what can we do? The government simply can't pay. What can be done?

Han:

This means that the government has violated the labour law.

Deputy Chair:

But what can we do when the government violates the law? They are incapable of action. They don't have the cash.

Han:

According to the new trade union law, if wages are delayed in violation of the labour law, the trade union can take legal action. The government passed this law and now it is again violating it. So shouldn't our trade union take them to court in accordance with the legal stipulations?

Deputy Chair:

Hey, this is really difficult to do.

Han:

Why?

Deputy Chair:

If the union goes to court, whom will it accuse? The government? They haven't got any money. Who will pay? The union is under the leadership of the Communist Party. Which trade union will dare to stand up to the bosses or factory management? You want to talk about that kind of thing, then talk about a developed country like the US where I can use the law to protect workers' rights… This is the ACFTU. It's still weak because it's under the Party's leadership.

Back to Top

This website uses cookies that collect information about your computer. Please see CLB's privacy policy to understand exactly what data is collected from our website visitors and newsletter subscribers, how it is used and how to contact us if you have any concerns over the use of your data.