As economy flags, labour protests multiply across China

As economy flags, labour protests multiply across China

In hotbed Guangdong especially, unpaid wages leave many angry and in the lurch, activists tell The Maritime Silk Road.

Silk Road guangdong protest

In hotbed Guangdong especially, unpaid wages leave many angry and in the lurch, activists tell The Maritime Silk Road.

GUANGDONG: They range from angry factory and construction workers protesting on the streets of Guangdong, to disgruntled preschool teachers, golf caddies, KTV bar staff - and even, in one case, sanitation workers who dumped trash at a government building in protest over unpaid wages.

As China’s economy slows after more than two decades of breakneck growth, leaving companies in trouble or even bankrupt, strikes and labor protests have escalated across the country. There were 2,044 incidences in the first nine months of 2016, compared to 1,379 for the whole of 2014.

And one hotbed in particular has been Guangdong - the touted “factory of the world” which manufactures much of the globe’s toys, shoes, clothes and furniture.

According to data culled from social media by the China Labour Bulletin, in 2015, Guangdong province averaged more than one labour dispute a day. In August alone this year, there were 31 incidences, reported the Hong Kong-based NGO.

Mr Wu Guijin, a labour activist living in Guangzhou, told Channel NewsAsia he has seen a huge increase in the number of factories closing shop.

“During the Chinese New Year, for example, workers went back for the holidays and when they returned, the factory had stuck a bankruptcy notice on the door. Wages were not fully paid, and the boss disappeared without a trace,” said Mr Wu, in an interview for the new series, The Maritime Silk Road, which premieres on Tuesday (Oct 18).

silk road guangdong2

Guangdong labour activists Wu Guijin (left), who was detained for 371 days, and Ni Hong Ping speaking to The Maritime Silk Road.

Such incidences have become unfortunately common in Guangdong. In September, 130 workers held a sit-in at a Zhongshan restaurant over wage arrears after their employer ran off with. Others have blocked roads, threatened to jump from building roofs and clashed with police.

The problems have struck a wide range of sectors. They include developers, construction firms, manufacturers of electronics, textiles, cellphones, steel, toys and furniture, and more.

Labour activist Ni Hong Ping said that many of the workers being laid off in Guangdong province were in their 40s. “They are reaching retirement age but they have no pension, no insurance and little savings,” he said.

“Many of their children are headed to university and these retrenched workers face huge financial pressures.”

WATCH: The series overview, plus Guangdong’s labour woes


Most demonstrations so far have refrained from political attacks and focused on grievances such as unpaid wages or unfair terms.

Still, on Sept 27, three labour activists detained in December 2015 were sentenced by a Guangdong court for “disturbing social order” and for working with foreign organisations hostile to China.

Mr Zeng Feiyang, director of prominent labour rights group the Panyu Workers’ Centre, was given a suspended three-year sentence, while his co-workers Tang Huanxing and Zhu Xiaomei received suspended sentences of 18 months each, the official Xinhua news agency said.

Guangdong is facing mounting economic challenges as many factories relocate to cheaper Chinese provinces or to countries such as Cambodia where labour costs are lower.

More about Guangdong’s labour unrest on The Maritime Silk Road, on Tuesday (Oct 18), 8pm SG/HK on Channel NewsAsia.

Zeng Feiyang, director of the Guangdong Panyu Migrant Workers Center, talks on his phone during an

Zeng Feiyang, director of the Guangdong Panyu Migrant Workers Centre.

Source: CNA/yv

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