China: Retail workers respond to sudden sacking and wage arrears with collective action, according to labour rights NGO

Author: China Labour Bulletin (Hong Kong), Published on: 18 November 2019

“Squeezed on all sides, China’s retail workers respond with collective action”, 13 Nov 2019

Businesses throughout China’s hyper-competitive retail sector, from traditional supermarkets to new e-commerce platforms, have been cutting costs, restructuring or closing down entirely, leaving thousands of workers out of a job and owed months of wages in arrears.

In response, workers across China are taking collective action to defend their rights. China Labour Bulletin’s Strike Map has recorded 58 strikes and collective protests by retail workers so far this year, accounting for nearly five percent of all worker protests. At least 50 of the 58 incidents in the retail sector were related to wage arrears.

E-commerce companies and online platforms are just as likely to see collective actions as traditional retailers. The Strike Map has recorded 11 such protests so far this year, six of which were related to the sudden sacking of more than 1,000 staff at the second-hand car sales platform, RenRenChe, which had branches in cities throughout China.

… So far this year, 14 of the 58 retail sector protests have been in automotive sales.

… At least eight collective protests by real estate workers have been recorded so far.

There were 17 incidents at traditional supermarkets, nearly all of which were related to staff lay-offs, business restructuring and store closures, with workers primarily demanding the payment of wages in arrears and lay-off compensation…

The majority of protests by supermarket workers in the 2010s have been in smaller cities in provinces such as Henan, Jiangsu, Hunan and Shandong rather than major metropolises where consumers have greater spending power…This year, for example, there were protests by staff at Hua’run supermarkets in Qingdao and Yantai after the company announced a restructuring plan in Shandong…

Retail workers are some of the lowest paid employees in China…

Moreover, the majority of employees, particularly in traditional retail, are women… A large proportion of women workers are middle-aged and depend on proper pension contributions from their employer to secure their future. However, employment in the retail sector is increasingly precarious and many workers are denied the social insurance and welfare benefits they are entitled to. At least six of the protests recorded this year were specifically related to the non-payment of social insurance contributions.

[Also referred to Walmart]

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Related companies: Walmart