China’s annual protest wave hits construction hard

Lunar New Year is just around the corner, and like clockwork this has been proceeded by the annual rise in protests over wage arrears, as migrant workers prepare to return to their family to celebrate. This year protest activity has been particularly acute in the construction industry, according to the China Labour Bulletin.

Construction workers have blocked roads, protested at government buildings and even threatened suicide to compel local government officials into pressuring bosses to pay wages. Officials from the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security pointed to issues such as widespread contracting, poor government oversight and the general economic downturn as catalysts driving the protests.

The first half of 2016 had already seen a rise in strikes and protests of almost 20% on the previous year, led by an early boom in the construction sector. Construction made up 40% of all incidents in this period – almost 600 out of a total of 1454 protests in six months. A similar trend continued in the third quarter, in which construction accounted for 42% of all collective actions in the quarter – over 250 in total. August alone saw nearly 100 incidents of construction worker collective action, almost all covering wage arrears.

As Chinese workers increasingly push for independent trade unionism and the right to bargain collectively, workers around the world employed on Chinese state-owned construction companies are exposing Chinese companies to the rights of freedom of association. In Africa, Asia and Latin America BWI unions are disciplining these companies, paving the way for Chinese workers to exercise their own rights.