07/07/2020, 16.24
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China’s mask factories go bust

Following an initial boom at the beginning of the pandemic, many factories in the sector have closed their doors. With over 200 million masks produced per day, excess production has closed factories down. Left without a job, workers protest over unpaid arrears. About 350 euros per month to produce 3 thousand sanitary masks.

Hong Kong (AsiaNews) - After an initial boom at the beginning of the pandemic, Chinese factories producing protective masks for Covid-19 are now going bust. According to the Hong Kong based China Labor Bulletin (CLB), there have been nine strikes or similar protests in the period from early May to the end of June due to closures in the sector or unpaid wages.

In the first half of 2020, over 76 thousand new mask factories sprung up throughout the country. Now many of them are closing down because of over-production. This is due to the drop in cases of contagion, but also to the erroneous forecasts on potential foreign sales, as highlighted by the Global Times (newspaper linked to the People's Daily, official organ of the Chinese Communist Party).

The demand for face masks in China at the beginning of the pandemic was so great that the companies in the sector had increased the daily production of those model N95 (the best ones in circulation) from 130 thousand pieces in early February to 5.86 million by the end of April. The production of other types of masks, on the other hand, had grown from five million to 200 million a day.

With these quantities, and a demand that continues to shrink, the unit price of the masks has plummeted and factories have started to accumulate huge stocks. Not to mention that many production lines have had to withdraw masks that have proven to be of poor quality.

Four of the nine protests detected by the CLB took place in Jiangsu, an important manufacturing province. However, the most striking case occurred in Henan. On June 17, the Shengguang group mask factory in Pingdingshan suddenly closed, leaving workers without any prospects for survival. Five days later, in the nearby Xinyang, another factory of the same company closed its doors. Employees of both factories staged protests demanding payment of arrears.

Local governments and the Beijing Ministry of Industry have helped the Shengguang group increase production from 300,000 to around six million masks per day, often of poor quality. These subsidies were granted despite workers' doubts about the reliability of their managers.

The wages in the two factories were quite low. The workers had to produce 3 thousand N95 masks each month to receive a basic salary of 2,800 yuan (353 euros). The day shift fee was about 0.02 yuan per piece; 0.03 yuan for the night shift. The workers who produced disposable masks did not even have a basic salary and were paid in lump sums.

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