Eleven Held in Chinese City Amid Protest Over Bonuses, Mooncakes

A villager places candles and incense ahead of a dragon dance performance during the Mid-Autumn Festival in Guangzhou city in south China's Guangdong province, Sept. 8, 2014.Imaginechina
Authorities in the southern Chinese province of Guangdong have detained at least 11 people following clashes with hundreds of striking workers at a Taiwan-invested Apple supplier and LCD screen-maker who protested cuts to bonuses over the Mid-Autumn harvest festival.

Thousands of workers at Wintak LCD Co. in the manufacturing hub of Dongguan learned on Tuesday that factory managers had cut their expected holiday bonus of 600 yuan (U.S.$100) and their allowance of traditional mooncakes.

Angry employees poured onto the main avenue outside the factory complex on Tuesday morning, clashing with police who tried to move them on, protesters told RFA.

"The police dispersed the protest with violence," a Wintak worker surnamed Ma told RFA. "After that, the workers went back to the shop floor, but they refused to resume work."

Police also detained a number of striking workers during the clashes, they said.

"They have detained 11 people, and they haven't yet released them," a second Wintak worker who declined to be named said on Tuesday. "The police from the local police station detained them."

"When their families went to inquire, they were told that they're being held under criminal detention," he said.

Broken promise

A striking worker who gave only his surname Liu said the strike had come after the factory failed to pay out third-quarter bonuses to staff, as promised.

"We are angry because they have taken 70 percent off the value of our bonuses, and of course the workforce don't think this is right," Liu said.

"They pretty much all came out on strike."

Dongguan Wintak has a complement of some 10,000 workers, although RFA was unable to confirm whether all of them were affected by the cuts to bonuses.

A third worker said labor relations at the plant, which manufactures liquid crystal display panels, and is also a supplier of Apple Inc, have been sour for some time.

"Really, this incident was just the spark that lit the powder keg," she said after Tuesday's protests. "We have had a problem with a lot of things that have affected our interests."

A fourth worker surnamed Ma said police had used "violence" to clear the area after the workers refused to return to work.

"Management said they would do their best to get back to us, but we haven't had a response [to our demands] yet," Ma said.

"If they don't agree to our demands, this strike will definitely continue," he said.

'Situation quiet now'

An officer who answered the phone at the nearby Sanguan police station said the strikers had returned to their factory.

"Normally, we wouldn't get involved in a strike, but they were blocking a public highway, so we had to," the officer said.

"The situation at Wintak is quiet now," he added. "As for whether or not any workers were detained, it's not convenient for me to say."

Repeated calls to the Wintak management offices rang unanswered during office hours on Tuesday.

An official who answered the phone at government offices in Dongguan's Dongcheng district declined to comment.

"I have no way to confirm your identity, sorry," the official said.

Labor disputes

The Hong Kong-based China Labour Bulletin recorded 202 labor disputes in the country during the first quarter of 2014, mostly in the manufacturing sector, a year-on-year increase of more than 30 percent as China's economic growth slows.

Liu Kaiming, who directs the Institute of Contemporary Observation in the southern city of Shenzhen, said the strike is insignificant because of the sheer size of Wintak's workforce.

But he was unsure about the reasons for the strike given by the workers.

"If they are working on a national holiday, the workers should be given double pay, and if not, just the regular pay for the day," Liu said.

"On the other hand, a bonus is something the company pays voluntarily."

The ruling Chinese Communist Party-backed All-China Federation of Trade Unions (ACFTU) is charged with protecting workers' rights, but independent labor groups and workers say it has a poor track record when it comes to negotiating with management and government officials.

Meanwhile, rights groups say police are increasingly employing public order offenses as a means of silencing peaceful activism on almost any topic.

Mid-Autumn Festival, traditionally a harvest celebration, starts on the 15th day of the eighth lunar month, when the moon appears at its roundest and largest.

People across China gather to eat festive food, light lanterns, eat moon cakes, and appreciate the view of the moon.

Reported by Lin Jing for RFA's Cantonese Service, and by Gao Shan for the Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.

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