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17 Mar 2020

China Labour Bulletin (Hong Kong)

China: Collective protests, mainly in service and transport industries, resume as workers return to work

“Collective protests begin to flare up again as China returns to work”, 17 March 2020

After a month in which there were virtually no worker protests in China because much of the country was on lockdown, workers are beginning to take collective action again. Many protests have been related to the economic distress caused by the covid-19 epidemic.

China Labour Bulletin’s Strike Map has recorded 25 incidents since businesses outside the central province of Hubei tentatively resumed production after the extended Lunar New Year break in mid- and late-February…

Many of the protests were in service and transport industries that were already experiencing economic difficulties prior to the covid-19 outbreak.

On 10 March, for example, more than a thousand taxi drivers in the southwestern city of Liuzhou staged a protest demanding the suspension of cab rental fees and the right to sell their vehicle back to the cab company with no penalty…

There was a noticeable increase in the number of taxi driver protests prior to the covid-19 outbreak at the end of last year as pent-up frustrations over local government regulations, cab company management and especially competition from ride-app and unlicensed drivers erupted in a series of large-scale and sometimes violent protests.

Most of the recent worker protests have been related to wage arrears and layoffs. Several workers at a snack food company in Beijing, for example, staged a protest on 10 March after the company refused to pay three months’ wages in arrears totalling nearly 400,000 yuan even after an arbitration court ordered it to pay up…

In another Beijing protest, workers demonstrated against the mandatory unpaid leave policy implemented by online service provider 58.com that would only give staff a subsidy equal to 80 percent of the local monthly minimum wage, far from a living wage…

Construction workers, including some workers who were recruited to build emergency hospitals for covid-19 patients in Wuhan, have also been forced to protest over unpaid wages. Most recently workers at a construction site in Zhoukou, Henan, were beaten after staging a wage arrears protest.

As normal production gradually resumes in China, workers who are already struggling after months of economic disruption will be more determined than ever to ensure their rights to remuneration, social insurance and compensation are not violated.