Government and industry search for ways to calm the country's factory hands
Less than two years after the worker suicides at electronics giant Foxconn and a strike at Honda (HMC ) suppliers in Guangdong province, labor troubles are again roiling China. On Nov. 17 around 7,000 workers at a Taiwanese-owned New Balance supplier in Dongguan protested plans to relocate production to Jiangxi province and cut bonuses. Dozens of workers were injured when police moved in, according to reports and photos posted on the Internet. Five days later, 1,000 workers halted production to protest overtime rules at a Shenzhen company that, according to its website, supplies Hewlett-Packard (HPQ ). In Shanghai, women workers at Singapore-owned Hi-P International, a supplier for Motorola Mobility (MMI ) and others, struck on Nov. 30 over a planned shift of part of production to Jiangsu province. (Motorola confirms the incident, and says it is not directly involved in working toward a resolution.) “We are seeing an upsurge in worker activism that exceeds anything since the summer of 2010,” says Geoffrey Crothall, communications director at China Labour Bulletin, an advocacy group in Hong Kong. Some 180,000 riots, strikes, and protests occurred in 2010, according to Sun Liping, a professor at Beijing’s Tsinghua University.
On Dec. 1 the government announced the first contraction in manufacturing since 2009. “As the environment goes from bad to worse, a lot of factories want to find a way out,” says Willie Fung, chairman of Hong Kong bra-maker Top Form International. “They want to downsize, shut down, or move somewhere else, and this sparks labor disputes.” A strike at Fung’s Shenzhen factory ended after he agreed to a holiday bonus of $189 each for 500 workers.