Strikes and worker protests continue throughout February

By Jennifer Cheung

Workers across China continued to stage strikes and protests at low wages, increased costs, management takeovers and relocations after traditional New Year holiday at the end of January. China Labour Bulletin logged 27 media reports of strikes and protests in February, the vast majority in the industrial/manufacturing and transport sectors. See CLB’s strike map for more details.

Of the 12 strikes by industrial workers in February, seven were related to a reduction in their annual bonuses or demands for higher wages. Four were concerned with factory relocation plans or unreasonable employee deployments, while workers at Putzmeister Machinery in Shanghai staged a strike over the unsatisfactory compensation package being offered after the company’s takeover by the SANY Group.

One industrial conglomerate, the Hanzhong Iron and Steel Group, was hit by two separate strikes at its facilities in the northern province of Shaanxi on 14 and 23 February respectively. Both disputes centered on low pay and poor working conditions. Around 5,000 workers at the Hanzhong Steel Company staged a three-day strike in protest at monthly pay levels of between 1,000 yuan and 1,500 yuan. They were followed one week later by workers at the nearby Yangjiaba iron mine, who complained about the lowest wages in the metallurgical industry. Around a dozen workers were reportedly detained in each of the strikes.

In the transport sector, bus drivers in Ningxia and Shandong protested against unfair competition from unlicensed operators; bus drivers in Guangdong complained at the non-payment of social security and overtime, and drivers in Gansu protested against shortened passenger waiting times.

There were four taxi drivers’ strikes in Guangdong, Anhui, Shandong and Henan in February. Drivers were unhappy with rising fuel prices and low flag-fall rates. In one extreme case, taxi drivers in Zhoukou, Henan, claimed flag-fall had not increased at all since 1996, while the local cost of living index had skyrocketed.

At the end of the month, the Ministry of Transport, Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security, and the All-China Federation of Trade Unions announced a joint initiative to formally establish an employment relationship between taxi drivers and taxi companies. At present, most taxi drivers are not formally employed by taxi companies but pay monthly contracting fees to the company, which normally account for more than half the drivers’ monthly income. Squeezed by rising commodity prices and high contract fees, taxi drivers often struggle to make ends meet.

Reforming the contract system will not however necessarily lead to fewer strikes. As analysts have pointed out, even after a more formal employee-employer relationship is established, the government will still have a key role to play in regulating the industry and adjusting flag-fall prices.

There was, in addition, a three day strike over low pay at the end of the month involving junior and elementary school teachers from Hebei. Teachers with decades of experience reportedly could only earn just over 1,000 yuan per month, while others earned even less than the local minimum wage. The local government agreed to consider the pay demands and the teachers reportedly returned to class on 29 February.

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