By Maurits Elen
The current wave of strikes and demonstrations continued this week, as more than 100 workers blocked a Tesco store in the city of Jinhua in Zhejiang province.
Shoppers were prevented from entering the shop by the staff, who boldly blocked and barricaded the entrances and exits, while holding up banners with messages, including ”We want to protect our rights…Return our blood and sweat money.”
The Tesco store is due to close next month, but Chinese employees already were concerned it would shut sooner than scheduled after it began discounting goods.
Previous cases in China where bosses have closed businesses overnight and fled without paying workers motivated Tesco staff to demand the managment to pay them the overtime they were due, and to terminate their contracts so they would receive wages immediately.
In a response to the strike, Tesco stated the following:
China is an important growth market for Tesco. We have a strong future store opening programme with more than a dozen additional hypermarkets planned this financial year. In line with our overall strategy, we are closing one of our older underperforming storesnext month.
We are working with the local government and doing all we can to look after our employees affected. We have offered all staff the opportunity to relocate to another Tesco store in the region and we’re also helping employees unable to relocate by setting up interviews with other local retailers. Any employees who leave the business will receive a one-month additional salary as compensation which will be paid to employees prior to the store closure.”
Intensification of labor unrest
China has seen a growing series of labor disputes recently due to an increasing incertainty about the global economy, which is fueled by the European sovereign debt crisis and a weak recovery in the US.
Last week in southern Guangdong province, over 10,000 workers besieged a shoe factory in a massive strike in Dongguan after losing overtime pay, more than 400 female workers at a bra factory in Shenzhen halted work to protest ill treatment, and factory workers from an Apple and IBM supplier blocked a highway to protest labor conditions, and complained of excessive hours.
Liu Kaiming, of the Institute for Contemporary Observation in Guangdong, said that the current development in labor disputes shows a new trend.
“Employees of a new generation are emerging. They cannot accept the current working environment and ask for better benefits. China’s cheap labour system is being attacked severely and conflict of this kind is becoming fiercer and fiercer.”
Geoff Crothall, of Hong Kong-based China Labour Bulletin, said labor disputes have been occurring around almost every sector in the economy, with this latest dispute showing strikes in the retail sector as well:
“Another major factor is that workers are much more determined to stand up for their rights and interests than five years ago … They are much more aware of what they are entitled to, not only legally, but what they feel they [need] to have a decent living for example. There’s a higher sense of self-worth.”
At this rate, you’d think China’s working stiffs would unite together for the worker’s cause and adopt socialism, or some other crazy thing along those lines.