China in crisis: tensions rising over unpaid wages
As a result of the global crisis “the number of businesses going into the red or going bankrupt continues to grow, leading to more disputes over salary claims,” Du Wanhua, a top official with the court, said.
Unemployment is also rising. Cheng Guoqiang, deputy head of the Chinese State Council’s Development and Research Center, said that “earlier reports put the estimate at 20 million people. According to our estimate, about 30 million farmers have lost their jobs.”
With a migrant population of some 225 million people, or 28 percent of China’s rural population according to a report released by the National Bureau of Statistics in March, the country’s growth rate must be at least 8 per cent if it wants to avoid unemployment and social unrest, China’s Premier Wen Jiabao said last Saturday. This rate has not been met in the last six months.
The China Labour Bulletin, a well-known Hong Kong- based workers’ rights advocacy journal, has warned China’s local governments that workers are not going to lose their job after decades of work without putting up a fight for their rights.
For example 5,000 workers at the Golden Emperor Group textile plant in Chongqing’s Fuling district went on strike on 13 and 14 April, after management announced its reorganisation and the start of bankruptcy proceedings; their demands: three-month back pay and a fair severance pay.
Also this month thousands of workers demonstrated for three days in Baoding (Hebei) in front of the Yimian textile factory for wage arrears and their pensions. The workers threatened to block the railway line to Beijing, and were only stopped after the mayor said he would mediate the dispute.
According to the China Labour Bulletin, more than 30 million people lost their job in the early 1990s when state-owned plants were privatised. After that the lack of specific rules led to countless labour disputes, some not yet solved.
Now the situation is worse because migrant workers will “not simply lie down and accept their fate without a fight,” the journal wrote.
If the authorities really want to avoid social unrest they must not sweep under the carpet the rights and interests of workers.