Wall Street Journal: Labor Disputes a Growing Threat to Social Stability in China, State-Backed Think Tank Says

China Labour Bulletin is quoted in the following article. Copyright remains with the original publisher.

Dec 25, 2014

As China’s leaders grapple with a slowing economy, they must also contend with a looming threat to social stability—the country’s increasingly disgruntled workforce.

Labor protests have swelled this year in frequency and scale, reversing a recent decline in social unrest and underscoring tensions over wages and benefits among China’s migrant workers, a top state-backed think tank said Wednesday.

“Amid slowing growth and intensifying restructuring efforts in the economy… 2014 has seen a swift and sizable increase [in labor protests],” the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences said in an annual study on social trends. “Labor disputes remain the most prevalent form of social conflict.”


Roughly 522,000 labor-arbitration cases were handled in the first nine months of this year, up 5.6% from the same period a year earlier, according to CASS data. Those cases involved some 721,000 people, up 11.1% from a year earlier.

In contrast, arbitration cases had declined in 2013, when nearly 1.5 million cases were logged over 12 months, 0.8% lower than the 2012 total, according to CASS.

“Mass incidents that stemmed from labor disputes have also increased,” CASS said. Most of these protests stemmed from disputes over unpaid wages, layoffs and compensation, work insurance and benefits, among other factors, it added.

The academy tracked 132 mass labor incidents from Feb. 21 to Nov. 7, of which 64 were related to wages and mainly affected the construction, garment and electronics sectors. It didn’t provide comparable figures from 2013.

Labor protests have also grown in scale. Some 52 protests in the first nine months of the year involved more than 1,000 people each, CASS said, citing data collated by the All-China Federation of Trade Unions.

Of these, seven incidents drew more than 5,000 participants, including two protests that featured crowds more than 10,000 strong, the academy said.

The CASS findings dovetailed with recent observations by China Labor Bulletin, a Hong Kong-based watchdog, which tracked a “big increase in worker protests” in recent months, partly fueled by the construction sector’s struggles with a slump in China’s property market.

State-backed social housing and infrastructure projects have cushioned the impact so far, but some economists have warned that the labor-intensive construction industry could suffer significant job losses, should the property slump extend deep into 2015.

China Labor Bulletin tallied 372 strikes and labor protests in China during the three months ended September—double the number it tracked in the same period a year ago.

“One important reason for the increase in numbers is the greater visibility of strike action on social media in China,” China Labor Bulletin said in an October note. “However there does seem to be an actual increase in strikes, most noticeably in the construction industry and in the inland regions of China.”

— Chun Han Wong. Follow him on Twitter @ByChunHan

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