A strike at a Chinese factory that manufactures shoes for Adidas an Nike has spread to a sister factory in a neighbouring province, as thousands of workers gathered to protest against what they said were
unfair pay and benefits.
About 2,000 workers clocked in on Monday, but did not work, at the Yue Yuen factory complex in Jiangxi province, southern China, joining at least 10,000 employees at another Yue Yuen factory complex in
Dongguan, Guangdong province, who have been on strike since 14 April.
Up to 30,000 employees have stopped working in the strike – China’s largest in recent memory, according to the New York-based non-governmental organisation (NGO) China Labour Watch. “The issue that [the workers] are concerned about is very widespread,” said Geoff Crothall of the Hong Kong-based China Labour Bulletin, another NGO. “In this case, at least the company was paying something, it just wasn’t the full amount. In other cases we’ve seen, workers are getting nothing at all.
“A lot of this has to do with the fact that a lot of factories are
closing down or relocating, or changing ownership … Five years ago,
[strikes] were all about wage increases. But the focus of workers’
concerns now is very much on what happens if the factory closes down.
What kind of payments do we get? Do we get the social insurance that
we’re legally entitled to?”
The Dongguan complex, which is operated by the Taiwan-based Pou Chen
Group, has at least 40,000 employees and produces footwear for Reebok,
Nike, and more than 20 other brands. The Jiangxi complex mainly
produces shoes for Adidas.
Chinese authorities have deployed riot police and warned strikers
against gathering at the factory. Last week the state newswire Xinhua
reported that dozens of workers had been taken away by police.
According to the China Labour Bulletin four workers were taken to
hospital on the first day of the strike. Chinese state media has
claimed that no one was injured.
“We’re continuing the strike,” a worker in Dongguan surnamed Zhou told
Reuters on Monday. “We swiped our cards and then went back [home]. The
other production lines in the same network are striking too.”
Images online show massive crowds gathered in front of an eight-storey
building, many apparently taking pictures with their mobile phones. In
one, protesters carry a large banner, which reads: “Give me back my
social insurance, give me back my housing benefits!”
Yue Yuen’s spokesman, George Liu, told Chinese media that the firm had
offered to raise workers’ living allowance at its southern Chinese
factories by 230 yuan (£22) a month, beginning on 1 May. It also
promised to introduce a social security benefit plan next month. On
Tuesday, Yue Yuen’s management could not be reached for comment.
One worker, Xiang Feng, 28, said at least 80% of the workers were
likely to refuse the offer. “Workers may end up with a take-home
salary almost unchanged or maybe even lower than before,” she told
The government of Guobao, the city in which the factory complex in
Jiangxi province is located, has urged Yue Yuen to assuage the
workers’ concerns without bending the law. “Company and worker
representatives are urged to strengthen communication and consultation
… and guide the rational expression of the aspirations of the
workers,” it said on Monday.
China’s wages have risen in recent years and international companies
such as Adidas and Nike have begun moving their manufacturing
operations to lower-cost countries including Vietnam.