Labour disputes on the rise in China
Back pay, less than the minimum wages, poor working conditions. Experts: the only government union fails to protect workers, need for independent trade unions. The plight of migrants.

Beijing (AsiaNews / Agencies) - In Communist China there has been a rapid increase in labour disputes, to obtain back payment or better working conditions. The only state union often fails to protect the rights of workers, siding with management of industries linked to local governments. So the workers can only go on strike or sue.

According to official data, in 2008 the number of disputes brought to court topped 295 thousand +95% since 2007. In 2009 that number rose to 318 thousand and in the first eight months of 2010 there were 207,400.

Beijing says that the increase in cases is also a consequence of global economic crisis of recent years, which has scuppered many factories that have had to close without paying wages. But it recognizes that poor working conditions in many factories still exist: a series of strikes this year, especially in foreign companies such as the Japanese car industries or Taiwanese Foxconn, have shown that working conditions in factories are often alienating and outside the law.

Sun Jungong, spokesman for the Supreme People’s Court, noted that " A lot of enterprises, especially export companies, are unable to satisfy workers’ requirements for higher wages " to "maximize profits and minimize costs" and as a result "violate the normal rights of workers and exploit them”.

According to a recent study by the prestigious China Labour Bulletin, based on official data on a sample of 350 workers in Hainan about one sixth of migrant workers earn less than 500 Yuan a month (less than 50 Euro), far less than the minimum wage required by law.

It is common knowledge that the regulatory reforms of 2008, regarding minimum wage and workers' rights have been only partially implemented. 55% receives between 500 and 100 Yuan, and only a minority of 5% as much as 2 thousand Yuan per month. The monthly minimum wage in the area ranges from 680 to 830 Yuan, according to the city and companies. Other workers in the area work without a contract or their employer is in arrears for the payment of months of wages.

In the same area, the monthly pay of a resident employee is nearly 2,500 Yuan.

Scholars increasingly emphasize the need for independent trade unions, at least at the level of individual factories or companies, as the union official All-China Federation of Trade Unions, controlled by the state and with more than 170 million members, rarely supports the workers against employers. For some, this is also because often local  governments have vested interest in the local companies.