Protesting retired workers block highways in Chinese city

AFP, Monday 8 April 2002, 4:44 PM

Around 1,000 retired workers in southwest China blocked roads in a protest over pensions, a rights group and staff said.

Part of a wave of labor unrest to hit the country in recent weeks, workers from the state-owned Guiyang Steel Factory in Guiyang city began a sit-in and blocked two highways in front of the factory, the Hong Kong-based Information Center for Human Rights and Democracy said.

The centre said the retirees received only 100 yuan (12 US dollars) a month, not enough for them to live on, although they had paid pension insurance while working.

Problems have also affected some of the 8,000 people still employed at the factory, a statement from the centre said, saying only 80 percent of full salaries had been paid since April last year.

The workers blame poor management and insufficient cash flow rather than a lack of sales, they said in a statement.

A security guard at the factory gate told AFP that the workers—most of whom were women in their 50s and 60s—dispersed after Guiyang's vice mayor addressed protestors and promised pensions would be increased to 200 yuan.

He said there were only a couple hundred protestors and few police were called in.

A manager at the factory office refused to give details. This is very sensitive. No comment, he said.

Centre director Frank Lu said that whatever the exact pension figure, the retirees were being given very little.

It's not enough for basic living expenses. Many of the workers have given 30 years of their life to the company and some are in poor health, Lu said.

The protest in Guiyang follows major unrest last month in two industrial cities in China's northeast, which has been hit heavily by closures in the ailing state-owned sector.

Meanwhile in the city of Daqing, Heilongjiang province, laid-off oil workers last week continued their protest against a company decision arbitrarily to increase pension premiums, an action begun on March 1, the US-based China Labor Watch said on Monday.

However, numbers had significantly dwindled after the company backed away from its demands, although many workers were hanging on in the hope of being re-employed.

And in the city of Liaoyang, Liaoning province, four workers' leaders are facing trial for organizing large-scale protests which also began in early March.

Protestors demonstrated over unpaid wages, insufficient severance pay and alleged corruption, but have stayed off the streets during the past week for fear of complicating the four detained workers' cases, they said.

At their height, protests in the cities attracted tens of thousands of people, according to participants, making them the most significant labor unrest to hit China in recent years.