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Chinese Are Protesting for Unpaid Wages

Thousands of workers at Zybio, a pharmaceutical company in Chongqing City, held a protest inside the factory and even clashed with the special police force which came to suppress them.

Zybio designs and manufactures medical diagnostic reagents and instruments. According to an interview with a Zybio employee, the company hired around seven thousand temporary workers in early December, promising to pay them 1,000 yuan (US$146) as a bonus on top of their hourly pay if they would work until January 21 and another 2,000 yuan bonus if they worked until February 15.

On January 6, the company announced it would lay off 8,000 people. Most of them were those temporary workers. The company said they lost orders. It used to produce COVID nucleic acid extraction testing kits, which were in high demand when Beijing carried out the “zero-COVID” policy. It switched to producing antigen testing kits after the government stopped that policy. However, workers suspected that Zybio had enough orders but used a lack of orders as an excuse to avoid paying a bonus to the workers.

A smaller group of people started protesting on the evening of January 6. Since the company executives hid themselves and only let the factory manager arrange the layoff, people got furious and started smashing things. Several thousand workers gathered at the company on the next day. A few more company executives were found and beaten.

Special police came to the factory. Some videos posted online showed the clashes between the workers and the police, including a video showing that a small group of policemen retreated while the workers were chasing and throwing things at them.

The protesters shouted one appeal: “We just want our salaries.”

Zybio proposed a resolution: It would pay every worker their December salary on January 7 and their January salary on January 8. In addition, it would pay 1,000 yuan to those who left as their severance pay, or to those who stayed as a bonus.

Since people got the money they demanded, they accepted the proposal. The protesters all left the company immediately.

Demanding unpaid wages has been a big issue when the Chinese New Year has approached. The government has demonstrated the habit of delaying payments to its contractors and companies. It has also had the habit of delaying payment to, or not paying in the end, its subcontractors or workers. Since migrant workers usually go home for Chinese New Year, they started a protest to demand their money before the Near Year.

This year has been even harder as some companies have struggled to survive due to the bad economy in China.

A netizen posted 40 videos about people at different places, including Beijing, Guangdong,  Shandong, Hebei, and other locations, demanding the payment of their wages on either January 4 or January 5.

The authorities somehow belittled the workers who tried to defend their own rights, as their actions interrupted society’s stability. Sometimes the government uses force to drive the workers away. Some officials came up with a term “malicious wage collection” to defame those workers who were actually victims.

Recently an online posting showed a banner hanging at a company, saying, “Fiercely crack down on malicious wage collection actions; defend the company’s illegal action of not paying wages.”

It is yet to be seen how the salary demand protest will continue its development in China.

1. Epoch Times, January 7, 2023
2. Radio Free Asia, January 5, 2023