A group of sanitation workers in China’s financial hub of Shanghai protested pay cuts last week in an unusual show of discontent.
A rare protest in China’s financial hub
Despite growing labor tensions in the country, protests in city centers are extremely rare due to the government’s ongoing crackdown on social unrest.
Social media posts have emerged since March 26 showing workers rallying outside a government building in a bustling western Shanghai neighborhood.
Local residents of Changning said they counted about 100 participants in the rally, which ended last week.
Posts about the incident were later removed from Chinese social media.
Some photos and video footage are still circulating on Twitter.
In statement released online on Monday, the Changning district government said the workers were “voicing their demands” after several urban cleaning companies cut their working hours and rates.
The Shanghai government set the minimum wage for sanitation workers at about $383 a month in 2016. The city’s average monthly salary that year was $1,035.
It is unclear how much the protesting workers are paid and whether the disputes have been resolved.
The Chinese Communist Party has long regarded labor activism as a potential threat to its rule, even though the protests do not always target the government.
Only unions controlled by the party-run All-China Federation of Trade Unions are allowed to operate in the country.
Forming independent unions or protesting on the streets are often met with harsh crackdowns.
Despite tight controls, scattered labor protests and strikes have soared in recent years, according to China Labour Bulletin, a Hong Kong-based labor rights group.
The group recorded 440 labor protests in China in the first quarter of this year, almost double the number from the same period in 2017.
Pay cuts and employers’ failures to make social insurance contributions are among the top causes of the protests, it says.
Wang Jiangsong, a Beijing-based labor rights expert, says such disputes will become more common in China as companies try to lower costs during the country’s economic slowdown.
The Chinese economy expanded at double-digit rates from 2003 to 2007, but growth rates have dropped below 7% since 2015.
The huge manufacturing sector is losing business to other developing countries due to rapidly rising wage levels in China.
Last month, workers in a Guangzhou factory that makes Michael Kors handbags staged an eight-day strike to demand higher pay.
The company agreed to their demands and work resumed.
In 2016, Walmart workers in three Chinese cities organized a strike over a new work scheduling system.
The strike ended a week later after the retailer agreed to consider the workers’ demands.