Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Chinese labour unrest spreads

Chinese labour unrest spreads
ByTom Mitchell in Hong Kong and Robin Kwong in Taipei
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2010
Published: June 9 2010 06:18 | Last updated: June 9 2010 06:18

About 2,000 workers clash with police during strike protests outside the Taiwan-funded KOK Machinery rubber factory in Kunshan, in east China’s Jiangsu province

Chinese labour protests that have forced shutdowns at foreign factories have spread beyond south China’s industrial heartland, posing a dangerous new challenge for Beijing.

Workers at a Taiwanese machinery factory outside Shanghai clashed with police on Tuesday, leaving about 50 protesters injured. The confrontation represented an escalation of recent industrial action in the country, which until this week had been largely peaceful and concentrated in the southern province of Guangdong.

The violence at KOK International in Kunshan, a factory town in southern Jiangsu province, came just a day after Honda struggled to contain the fallout from its second strike in as many weeks. That strike, at Foshan Fengfu Autoparts, a joint venture majority held by a Honda subsidiary, forced the Japanese carmaker to suspend production at its car assembly plants in nearby Guangzhou, the capital of Guangdong province.

The workers at Foshan Fengfu, which employs 492 people, appeared to have been inspired by a successful strike last week at another Honda components supplier which ended only after the company agreed to a 24-33 per cent wage hike.

Honda said the strike was continuing on Wednesday morning, contradicting a report by the official Xinhua news agency that workers had “completely dispersed” after the supplier, which makes exhaust components for its parent, agreed to come back with an adjusted wage offer in ten days’ time.

The unrest in Foshan suggests that strikes are proliferating faster than local governments and the official All China Federation of Trade Unions – which workers have largely circumvented in their recent protests – can resolve them.

While there is no evidence that workers at different factories are co-ordinating their activities, the success of the first Honda strike has emboldened workers by demonstrating that mass action can yield results.

In a typical example, on June 6 about 300 workers at a Taiwanese audio components factory in Shenzhen, the special economic zone bordering Hong Kong, blocked roads to protest against a change in their shift schedules. A spokesman for Merry Electronics said the situation was quickly defused.

“We had decided at the beginning of the year to raise wages 10 per cent by July 1, but had never announced this to the staff,” Tseng Chin-tang said. “We took advantage of Sunday’s event to let our staff know about the increase.”

Merry Electronics had been paying its staff Rmb950 ($140) a month, in line with regional minimum wage rates, before the increase to Rmb1,050.

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