In the last quarter of 2011, China saw many more worker strikes than ever before. In October 2011 a massive walk-out at a watch factory appeares to have initiated another wave of worker strikes in China. In November thousands of workers walked off the job in a shoe factory. And this month, it is reported that nearly 1,000 workers put down their tools in protest at a hard-disk manufacturing factory.
The above news is particularly poignant, as these strikes are now becoming quite typical. As a matter of fact, during the last quarter of 2011, there were many more worker strikes reported by local and international media. These strikes demonstrate a common theme.
First of all, the worker strikes in China have become a cross-sector movement. These strikes affect industries from consumer products and beverages to information technology, which indicates that the workers in the manufacturing sectors are gaining better awareness of their legal rights.
Secondly, it appears that the worker strikes have grown in scale and appear to be well-organized. Among these reported strikes, the smallest one exceeded 100 workers and the largest involved 7,000 workers. In addition, banners and slogans can be seen at protests indicating that the workers are well-prepared for their actions.
The third observation is related to the factors that trigger these strikes. In addition to the traditional reasons of excessive overtime hours and wage issues, business decisions made by the company’s senior management is seen as a new trigger that causes workers to fight for their rights. For example, workers may feel insecure following acquisitions by other companies or talks of relocating factories, all of which increase the workers’ fears of losing their benefits and jobs.
Given the current wave of worker strikes, factory owners may ask: “Will my factory in China face worker-strikes someday in the future?” It’s possible, especially if worker concerns are not properly addressed or if their complaints, legitimate or not, are completely ignored. In these cases management might need to improve communication. If details of issues affecting employees had been properly communicated to the workers in these factories the strikes might not have happened. In addition, if the factory's internal grievance mechanisms had functioned properly, then perhaps workers’ complaints over low wages or excessive working hours might not have escalated to the level of that which occurred at the watch factory in October 2011.
Looking ahead, 2012 may bring more challenges to the manufacturing sector, especially when it comes to handling employee-management relationships.