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21 Jun 2022

China Labour Bulletin,

China: Pandemic prevention measures spark worker unrest

"Pandemic prevention measures lead to variety of worker protests" 16 June 2022

Worker unrest related to China’s pandemic prevention policy implementation has risen in recent weeks, according to CLB data, particularly in lockdown-weary Shanghai.

CLB recorded 14 Covid-19-related worker protests since March, eight of which occurred in hard-hit Shanghai, which is slowly exiting a three-month city-wide lockdown. Poor working conditions under strict lockdown measures led to protests not only by doctors, nurses, and white-clad pandemic workers, but also factory workers, taxi drivers and others, according to CLB's Strike Map.

Unverified videos circulating on international and domestic social media this week showed dozens of white-clad pandemic workers engaged in street protests, demanding unpaid wages, in the Jingan district of Shanghai. Workers gathered at the Gonghexinlu sub-district government building and also marched through the streets, chanting, "Give us our hard-earned money!"

Social media posts describe the workers as pandemic "volunteers," nicknamed “big whites” for their full-body PPE, though this does not mean their positions are unpaid. Rather, Shanghai health volunteers are paid a subsidy of between 100-200 yuan per day, according to media sources. The authorities sent more than 10,000 health workers to Shanghai from around the country in early April as lockdown measures intensified.

While there is little other information about Tuesday's reported protest by health workers in Shanghai, it is far from the first incident. Late last month, as Shanghai's months-long lockdown eased, white-clad health workers hailing from outside Shanghai clashed with police in blue-clad coveralls.

The protesting workers were reportedly promised the right to quarantine in hotels before returning home, but they were instead told to use temporary fangcang (方舱) hospitals, used for mass isolation of thousands of confirmed and suspected Covid-19 cases.

Videos circulated online showing a man, likely a local official, addressing the angry workers. "Everyone seated here wants to leave this terrible place," the man told workers, who, he said, had worked inside fangcang facilities themselves. [...]