06/01/2010, 00.00
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Honda gives in and raises wages following Foshan strike

Workers complain that company officials beat them. Labour relations in China become tenser. Sociological profile of workers is changing. Most are from one-child families, want more and are not prepared to be treated like robots.
Beijing (AsiaNews) – Honda has presented an offer of higher wages to striking workers. Last week, the Japanese carmaker saw some of its plants in southern China forced to shut down following an unusual strike by its employees.

Most of the 1,900 workers in the Foshan, Guangdong parts plant accepted the carmaker’s offer of a 24 per cent, a Honda spokesperson said. However, about a hundred workers protested in front of the plant, claiming that they had been assaulted and beaten by company officials.

About half of the workforce in the Foshan plant is made up of student trainees from professional schools that are required to work for a certain period to earn their diploma. They are paid only 900 yuan a month (US$ 132), compared to specialised workers who get 1,380 yuan (US$ 200) a month.

Strikers demanded a flat raise of 800 yuan for everyone.

Negotiations are expected to end soon because strikes are illegal in China. In recent years however, work stoppages have been tolerated, especially in Guangdong, which is close to Hong Kong and the hub of China’s manufacturing sector.

Local employers said that salaries in the region doubled in the last five years.

The growing mass consciousness among industrial workers is worrying Beijing. For the authorities, it is a sign that the country might become less competitive in the international market. Honda and Foxconn investors agree.

Foxconn is the multinational company that recently experienced a rash of suicides among its employees.

“Gaining big profits from China is becoming harder,” said Satoru Takada, an analyst at Toward the Infinite World Inc. in Tokyo. “Other companies besides Honda may have the same problem.”

Developments at Honda and Foxconn are “closely monitored by foreign businesspeople on the mainland and overseas,” said Wang Xiangwei in an editorial in the South China Morning Post.  

What is happening reflects “the emergence of a bigger and more complex theme—industrial relations.  

“Over the past 30 years, multinationals have invested trillions of US dollars to set up shop on the mainland, making it a key part of the global supply chain. [. . .] Several factors have emerged to put labour issues higher on the agenda. The mainland's demographic changes and one-child policy mean that the window for cashing in on the demographic dividend—the rise in economic output as the percentage of working people increases—is closing fast.

At the same time, “The composition of the work force is also changing. Young migrants from one-child families currently dominate the work force. They expect more than just a monthly salary, and their pampered upbringings make them unprepared to work under conditions in which they are treated like a robot.”

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