Friday, July 6, 2018

China class's struggle

Guangdong increases minimum wage for first time in three years

After a three-year freeze, the minimum wage in the economic powerhouse of Guangdong will increase on average by around 200 yuan a month on 1 July, the provincial government announced last week. However, the increase falls well short of guaranteeing low-paid workers in the province a living wage.
The monthly minimum wage in the provincial capital Guangzhou will increase by about ten percent from the 1,895 yuan to 2,100 yuan, bringing it more in line with Shenzhen (2,200 yuan) but a long way from Shanghai, which increased its minimum wage to 2,420 yuan a month on 1 April this year.
The monthly minimum wage rate in second-tier cities like Dongguan, Foshan and Zhuhai will increase from 1,510 yuan to 1,720 yuan but that is still less than in second-tier cities in the eastern coastal province of Shandong.
Third-tier cities like Huizhou will get a 200 yuan increase to 1550 yuan per month, while the lowest minimum wage in Guangdong’s fourth-tier cities will go up to 1,410 yuan per month, which is less than the lowest monthly rate in the poorer and economically developing province of Jiangxi.
Food delivery workers in Guangzhou are struggling to make a living wage
China’s Minimum Wage Regulations stipulate that each region should set its minimum wage at between 40 and 60 percent of the local average wage. However, very few cities ever reach that target and even with its latest increase, Guangdong’s minimum wages barely reach 30 percent of the local average wage.
The Hong Kong-based group Worker Empowerment conducted a survey of minimum wage workers in Guangdong in 2017 and found that most were forced to live in low-rent, poor quality housing, spent most of their income on food and that many walked to and from work in order to avoid transport costs. Worker Empowerment estimated that a more realistic minimum wage in the province would be 2,970 yuan per month in Guangzhou; 1,922 yuan in Dongguan; 2,159 yuan in third-tier cities and 1,884 yuan in fourth-tier cities.
The provincial government had sought to delay its minimum wage increase for as long as possible after an exodus of businesses to lower-cost inland provinces in the mid 2010s. However, the rapidly increasing cost of living, particularly in housing in major cities, has forced it to make this minimal adjustment.
An official from the Guangdong Federation of Trade Unions told CLB that the provincial Department of Human Resources and Social Security had initially wanted a much lower increase but after consultation they eventually agreed to the 200 yuan raise.
The official argued that the new minimum wage was actually closer to the average wage than official statistics suggested because the statistics did not take into account the lowest-paid workers. He declined to say whether or not the new minimum wage rate was actually a living wage or what steps the trade union was taking to promote collective bargaining as a means of increasing wages.
It is clear however that, as in the past, employees on the minimum wage in Guangdong will still have to work excessive overtime and rely on bonuses in order to earn a decent wage.
As usual, employees on the minimum wage in Guangdong will still have to work excessive overtime and rely on bonuses just to earn a living wage.
Many workers however, such as those in the food delivery industry, are not even guaranteed a monthly minimum wage because they are hired as independent contractors rather than formal employees. Increased competition in the online food-delivery business recently has led to workers’ take home pay being cut and has forced them to work even longer hours and take even greater risks in order to make their deliveries on time.
Workers have responded with a wave of strikes across China. Most recently, workers for food delivery giant Meituan went on strike in Shenzhen on 19 June in a protest at a salary cut.

Food delivery workers in China strike over pay cuts and unfair work practices

There have been at least 15 strikes and protests by food delivery workers in China since 1 May as increased competition among delivery platforms has drastically reduced workers’ take-home pay.
CLB’s Strike Map has recorded protests by food delivery workers across the whole of China in Yunnan, Jiangsu, Shandong, Zhejiang, Chongqing, Shanghai, Guangdong, Jilin, Hunan, Guangxi and Shanxi.
Most recently, on 4 June, workers contracted to food delivery giant Meituan in the northern city of Taiyuan staged a work stoppage in protest at a wide range of issues including pay levels, delivery times, insurance and high accident rates.
The majority of the recent protests have indeed been by delivery workers for market leader Meituan, a company currently valued at around US$40 billion but which seems determined to squeeze every last cent out of its workforce.
Following a two-day strike by more than a hundred Meituan workers in Chongqing on 16 and 17 May, the Chongqing Evening News talked to the protesting workers about their long list of grievances.
Photo: Chongqing Evening News Slow News
The workers were individual contractors rather than being employed directly by Meituan itself but their pay and conditions of employment were determined by the Meituan online platform.
Many of the workers said they were initially attracted to the food delivery business because they were promised the freedom to choose the orders they wished to take. However, a new version of the App released on 10 May penalised workers who refuse to take orders even if the route and timing make completion of the delivery virtually impossible.
The payment per kilometre has been continually reduced with the lowest single journey payment now reportedly just 3.6 yuan. The rate for a journey of three kilometres is six yuan, and delivery times have been reduced from 40 to 36 minutes, while fines for late delivery have been increased.
All the while, drivers have to pay for fuel costs, vehicle repairs and their own phone bills. Many say they can no longer earn enough to support their families.
A three-yuan fee for accident and medical insurance is automatically deducted from the driver’s account each day but drivers say the insurance company will not pay out if they do not have a valid licence and registration (many don’t and Meituan is fully aware of this) or were driving illegally, which they are often forced to do in order to complete their delivery on time.
Drivers also complained of discrepancies between the Meituan App’s route and distance calculator and other popular online maps. The drivers alleged that the distances recorded on the App are much less than, for example, on the usually reliable Baidu Maps and that Meituan does not take into account traffic regulations when suggesting routes.
Workers say that when they complain about these unfair practices in WeChat groups and other online platforms, they can have their accounts frozen or permanently deleted. With no other avenues of redress available to them, their only option is to go out on strike.

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