01/09/2023, 14.02
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Laid-off workers protest in Chongqing as the end of zero-Covid policy hits manufacturing

Hundreds of workers gathered at a Zybio plant to protest, clashing with riot police. The government hopes to see the economy revive after lifting restrictions. However, big companies have stopped production and laid off thousands of people. For the China Labour Bulletin, ending lockdowns will not solve workers' problems.

Beijing (AsiaNews) – Hundreds of workers at a factory making COVID-19 antigen kits in Chongqing staged a protest on Saturday after they were laid off and received lower than agreed upon wages. Videos of protesters clashing with police in riot gear were posted on social media.

After the sudden easing of anti-Covid restrictions a month ago, following grassroots protests in late November, demand for testing kits and other materials for tracking the SARS-CoV-2 virus collapsed, with production lines standing idle.

Videos show people gathering in front of a plant owned by Zybio. In one, workers shout, "Give us our money back!" in others, people are seen throwing traffic cones, chairs and crates at police, forcing them to retreat.

Protests with political demands are rare in China, but not labour unrest. At present, the economic situation is tough, with expectations for a possible rebound in the second half of 2023 as the lifting of restrictions opens up the country, even if the Chinese government has still not provided data on the number of infections and deaths from COVID-19.

In late December, the Tesla plant in Shanghai halted production, Phone giant Xiaomi also began laying off thousands of workers, while the textile manufactures cut output to limit losses due to fewer orders.

For China’s manufacturing sector, the crisis stems from a combination of factors: the trade war with the United States, the pandemic, and the growing unwillingness of younger people to work in manufacturing in favour of more flexible and less demanding jobs.

According to Han Dongfang, editor of Hong Kong's China Labour Bulletin, the lifting of draconian containment measures will not repair the damage caused to workers by three years of lockdowns and quarantines. They will not likely solve structural problems that existed before the outbreak of the pandemic.

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