Wed, 21 Aug 2019

Workers at a major brewery in the eastern Chinese province of Jiangsu faced off with police and security guards over the weekend after thousands went on strike over pay and conditions.

Thousands of workers at the Yanghe Brewery in Jiangsu's Suqian city tried to storm management headquarters on Sunday, but were headed off by dozens of police and security personnel, who shut the gates to stop them.

Video footage of the confrontation showed hundreds of mostly female workers clad in white coats and hats running for the gates, but being overtaken by personnel in uniforms.

The Shenzhen-listed brewery promised to hike wages in a statement on Sunday evening after reaching a negotiated settlement with workers.

Differences over pay have now been resolved, and sales and production remain unaffected," Yanghe Brewery said in the statement posted on Weibo on Sunday night.

Sources told RFA that the strike at a major local employer had made Suqian city leaders very nervous, and that they had imposed an information blackout on online news or content related to the protests.

It was unclear whether production had resumed on Monday.

A Yanghe Brewery worker who gave only a surname, Liao, said police have now locked down the Yanghe Brewery site, and are preventing workers from entering or leaving.

He said the strike had been sparked by what workers said were unreasonable demands of the work force, including a production target of 8,000 cases per nine-hour working shift, which he said was "extreme," and was accompanied by no additional pay.

Safety regulations ignored

Liao said management at the factory were also flouting health and safety regulations, including depriving workers of rest breaks.

"The strike isn't over; we're not back at work yet ... there are about two or three thousand of us," Liao told RFA on Sunday. "They won't let us in."

"The shifts are nine hours and the pay is too low, and now they've raised the target to 8,000 cases with no pay rise, and only one day off in every 15," he said.

He said the former state-run factory has done well since it was privatized and listed on the local stock market, but had recently been affected by a corruption case involving the deputy provincial governor of Jiangsu, and workers were angry over allegations of corruption involving the factory management.

"It has just over 100 shareholders, and capital of more than 10 million," Liao said. "There are tens of thousands of people working to make money for around 100 people."

Pushed to their limits

An anonymous worker said shop floor workers are pushed to their physical limits by the brewery, with no basic protections.

An employee who answered the phone at the company offices on Sunday declined to comment on the strike, saying she hadn't taken part and didn't know the details.

"It's not convenient for me to talk to you about this," the employee said. "These are internal company matters."

Repeated calls to the Shenzhen-listed company's headquarters rang unanswered on Sunday.

An official who answered the phone at the Suqian municipal government offices said the government was currently "dealing with" the incident at Yanghe Brewery, but declined to comment further.

The strike began on Dec. 15 in a bid to protest "the disparity between rich and poor," and to "defend the rights of thousands of people," a statement from the workers posted to social media said.

It said the dispute is more than a decade old, with bosses making large fortunes from the factory while exploiting generation after generation of its workers.

Reported by Wong Siu-san and Lau Siu-fung for RFA's Cantonese Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.

Copyright 1998-2018, RFA. Published with the permission of Radio Free Asia, 2025 M St. NW, Suite 300, Washington DC 20036

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