The Hong Kong-based China Labour Bulletin (CLB), an NGO that tracks the worker’s movement in China, reports a sharp increase in labour disputes this year. Most protests have involved wage arrears.
According to the register maintained by CLB, about 1,150 protests over wage arrears were staged in the first ten months of this year. There were 813 protests in the same period last year. The record year was 2016, when 1,700 workplace disputes were registered over wage arrears.
As in previous years, the bulk of protests have been in the construction sector, which typically uses internal migrant workers from rural areas. Teachers, however, have staged the largest demonstration this year. Over 10,000 teachers took to the streets in Harbin in northeastern China to demand better pension payments.
Labour action has also been supported by Chinese universities, which students have helped to organise labour protests on behalf of workers. Media reports claim that the police have this year arrested dozens of student activists from China’s top-tier universities. Officials monitor student movements extremely closely, well aware of the lessons from the 1989 Tiananmen protests.