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Strikes, protests on the rise in China, labour rights group says
ABC Radio Australia - April 15, 2015
The Hong-Kong based China Labour Bulletin (CLB) recorded 1,379 incidents in 2014 compared with just 185 in 2011.
The trend appeared to coincide with the cooling of the Chinese economy, which last registered double-digit growth in 2010.
Since then the world's second largest economy has gradually slowed from 10.4 per cent to 7.4 per cent.
The economies of some of China's major export partners, like the United States and Europe, were also sluggish during that period.
CLB spokesman Geoffrey Crothall said most of the recent issues centred on unpaid salaries, factory closures and the failure of property development projects.
"Particularly in the run-up of Chinese New Year which fell in the middle of February, we saw a lot of people demonstrating for unpaid wages that had gone on for months, sometimes even years on end," he said. Workers had previously spoken out because of unpaid pensions and social security benefits.
China's manufacturing hub, Guangdong, was considered the epicentre of the workplace unrest. The prosperous southern Chinese province accounted for 20 per cent of all incidents in the final quarter of 2014, more than three times compared to the same period.
CLB found that protests were also rising in inland Chinese cities, spreading to workers in transport and service industries. The spike in labour protests could partially be explained by the ubiquity of cheap smart phones and a boom in Chinese social media.
Manufacturers struggling with rising costs, falling profits
Worker attitudes were also changing because employees felt they were in a stronger bargaining position, organised and ultimately driven by insecurity during uncertain economic times. The trends posed additional problems for manufacturing employers, who were already struggling to cope with falling profits, competition and rising costs.
Guangdong province recently announced an increase in the minimum wage after a two-year stagnation. From May 1, workers will be paid between RMB1,210 to RMB1,895 a month ($259-$406) depending on the city they work in.
Yang Jian, the secretary general of the Chinese Garment Industry, said he was not worried about the changing times.
"We haven't seen large-scale protests in our industry and I don't think it'll become the norm," he said. "I believe businesses will change the way they manage and communicate with their workers as long as they want to remain in the industry."