The labor protests broke out in front of Nanhua Metal Gem Craft Co. Ltd. in Nanhai, Foshan City, overnight on March 18 and extended into March 19.
Local authorities sent a large number of police to observe and eventually crack down on the protest. More than 40 workers were arrested.
The protest started around 6 p.m. on the evening of March 18. The crowd of more than a hundred employees gathered at the gate of the factory increased to a sizeable two and then three thousand by late evening.
Mr. Lin, an employee at the company who attended the protest, told The Epoch Times that around 70 police vehicles sent to the protest around 2 a.m. on March 19. No arrests were made overnight and the “situation was relatively normal, everyone was rational.”
But the next morning on March 19, police started arresting workers.
“Around 10 a.m., 400 or 500 police and special police suddenly showed up and started arresting workers. The special police were holding shields, and the police were armed with guns. They arrested whoever they saw at the scene,” Lin said, adding that around 40 to 50 people were arrested, including female workers.
The Epoch Times obtained a video showing police at the scene of the protest making arrests.
Some factory workers told The Epoch Times that the company currently has 4,000 to 5,000 employees, with most of them having worked there for more than ten years. The company used to pay their salaries on a time rate system, and there was a lot of overtime pay.
However, since the start of the pandemic last year coupled with the impact of the Sino-U.S. trade war, the foreign trade-based company has encountered operating difficulties and delays to orders, leaving workers with work for only three days a week.
And then, when work restarted full-time after the New Year this year, employees discovered that the company had switched to a piece-rate instead of hourly rate payment system. Employees were also asked to sign new contracts with the company, according to Mr. Li, another employee of the company.
Li said that after the change, employee monthly salaries dropped from 4,000 to 5,000 yuan ($770), to 2,000 to 3,000 yuan ($460). Many workers have had no choice but to take a second job after work to support themselves and their families.
Besides the sharp drop in pay, Lin said that social insurance issues were another major trigger of the protest. Now, 90 percent of employees cannot resign due to their social insurance payments that are tied to the company. Lin started working at the factory in 2005 but was not paid social insurance until 2011.
“Most people now protest because of this issue. We asked the boss to make up for the overdue social insurance that they owe us,” Lin told The Epoch Times. “We have tried many ways to talk to the management of the factory and we went to the local government of the township for help. They didn’t do anything. So the workers were forced to protest, since there’s no other way. We were all doing it spontaneously. There’s no leader organizing it.”
The workers said that the company’s treatment of employees has also declined since 2018, including lowering quality of work meals and cancelled holiday banquets, among others factors.
According to public data, Nanhua Metal Gem Craft Co. Ltd. was established in 1996 and its business scope includes the production and sale of items like watch cases, straps, semi-precious stone craft products, metal ornaments, assembly clocks, and metal crafts manufacturing.
Worker protests over labor issues in China have been on the rise as they struggle with low paid jobs that offer little social welfare protections. Their conditions have been worsening alongside the deteriorating Chinese economy in recent years, especially following the pandemic last year.
Thousands of delivery drivers in Shenzhen were on strike last month over lowered pay, while the president of the nation’s delivery drivers alliance was arrested for mobilizing the drivers across the country to take action to protect their rights. Earlier this year, migrant worker protests erupted around the country as they demanded wages owed to them from before the lunar new year.
According to Hong Kong-based NGO China Labor Bulletin, in the six months leading up to March 20, there have been 502 strikes and 277 calls for help from workers regarding labor issues throughout mainland China.
Gu Xiaohua contributed to the report.