Tesco Workers Protest in Jinhua, Zhejiang

10:21 Nov 29 2011 Jinhua Zhejiang

Tesco Workers Protest in Jinhua, Zhejiang
From The Guardian:

More than 100 workers have blockaded a Tesco in east China, the latest incident in a wave of industrial action in the country.

Staff occupied the entrances and exits round the clock, preventing shoppers from entering, in a protest over wages and redundancy terms, local media reported. Some held a banner saying: "We want to protect our rights. Return our blood and sweat money."

Thousands of factory labourers and others have gone on strike in recent weeks, amid increasing economic uncertainty.

Workers at Tesco in the city of Jinhua, in Zhejiang province, which is due to close at the end of the year, became concerned it would shut earlier after it began discounting goods. They asked management to pay them the overtime they were due and terminate their contracts so they would receive wages immediately, according to Zhejiang Online.

The workers may have been alarmed by previous cases in China where bosses have closed businesses overnight and fled without paying workers.

Tesco said: "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."

Workers feel that some will have no choice but to leave and argue they should be entitled to one month's pay for each year of employment, the compensation set out in redundancy laws.

Other complaints include an allegation that women had pay docked when they took time off to have an abortion, in contravention of provincial regulations. Zhejiang Online reported that Tesco representatives said they would investigate.

It was unclear whether protests were continuing on Wednesday. Phone calls to the store went unanswered and police said they had not heard of such an incident.

The protest is part of a spate of strikes and demonstrations. Last week alone, southern Guangdong province – China's manufacturing hub – saw thousands of workers at a shoe factory protesting outside government offices after losing overtime; hundreds striking over pay at an underwear factory; and around 1,000 walking out of a plant that makes keyboards for Apple, complaining of excessive hours.

But Geoff Crothall, of Hong Kong-based China Labour Bulletin, said industrial action was affecting areas across the country and a range of sectors. "[Strikers] include transport workers, sanitation workers, teachers – and as the Tesco strike shows, people in the retail sector as well," he said.

"Clearly the economic downturn is playing a significant part, putting pressure on business, and business in turn is passing the costs and pressure on to the workers – the ones who cannot afford it.

"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."

In the past, authorities might have detained protesters, he said, but these days they would try to resolve the issues, urging employers as well as employees to make concessions. But while last year saw major victories for protesting workers, with several substantial wage increases, it appears the tougher economic climate has made officials reluctant to put pressure on businesses.

Liu Kaiming, of the Institute for Contemporary Observation in Guangdong, said the current wave of action was part of a longer-term trend which has seen labour disputes soar.

"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."
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