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Laid-off Workers in China Hold Two Large Protests

AFP, 28 December 2000

BEIJING, Dec 28, 2000 -- (Agence France Presse) Laid-off workers in two Chinese cities demonstrated and blocked streets Thursday, in protest at inadequate redundancy compensation, locals and a rights group said.

Up to 2,000 workers from a factory that makes heavy machine tools blocked a major thoroughfare in the central Chinese city of Wuhan for three days from Tuesday, the Hong Kong-based Information Center for Human Rights and Democracy said.

The factory, which has 12,000 workers, is a large state-owned company which has run into financial problems and had recently announced it would axe 3,990 workers.

Staff were unhappy that the factory was reneging on a previous promise to pay each laid-off worker 800 yuan (96 U.S. dollars) for each year of employment.

The factory said it had learned such payments were against state policy, but workers were angry factory managers went back on their word.

The protest continued into Thursday, but an employee at the factory told AFP that only 200 to 300 people, mostly middle-aged, had demonstrated and they were not out in the same street every day.

She said many of the workers had already received redundancy payments.

City leaders were at the factory Thursday trying to mediate an agreement between the workers and managers, she said.

The protest had caused traffic jams that affected several thousand vehicles, according to the rights group.

Also Thursday, 500 workers at an iron and steel factory facing closure in the southwestern city of Chongqing, blocked roads in protest at the company's failure to pay them a second installment of unemployment compensation, the rights group said.

The company was supposed to made a second payment of 10,000 yuan to each of the 2,000 laid-off workers three months ago.

Employees, alleging graft, carried protest banners splattered with the words Fight against corruption, Fight graft, Must live as they marched down streets, the rights group said.

Demonstrations by workers, peasants and others have been rising in the past year as China carries out widespread reform of state-owned enterprises that have been losing money due to inefficiency and poor management.

The rights group estimated there has been 100,000 protests last year and expects the number to be higher this year. ((c) 2000 Agence France Presse)