CHINA'S labour-market unrest is spreading after electronics maker Foxconn, where 10 suicides appeared to trigger a round of strikes, said it would end compensation to victims' families.
Workers rallied outside a Honda plant in southern China yesterday amid a rash of new strikes in cities on the east coast and in the west of the country.
After erecting nets to save jumpers, and agreeing to a pay rise of up to 100 per cent for its 400,00 workers, Foxconn - which makes consumer electronics, including Apple's iPhone and iPad - has begun locking doors and windows in its plant and dormitory buildings to prevent further suicide attempts.
Most Chinese migrants working in the industrial east send money home to family in the rural inland. Foxconn reportedly claimed to have "concrete evidence" that some of the suicide victims took their life to guarantee compensation for families.
"The act is wrong. Life is precious," the company allegedly wrote on posters in the Shenzhen facility. "To prevent such tragedies, Foxconn is to cease releasing compensation other than that provided by law."
Victims' families typically received more than 100,000 yuan ($17,300) as compensation for workers who are paid as little as 1200 yuan a month. Following the Foxconn tragedies, workers at a Honda plant in the south held a strike that won wage rises of 24 per cent.
Reports yesterday showed strike action spreading around other parts of China. In Shanghai, a Taiwan computer parts manufacturer affiliated with Foxconn halted production over contract disputes, while in the western city of Xian, Japan's Brother Industries stopped work at two industrial sewing machine factories because of a strike. Police and workers clashed at two other Taiwanese-owned factories in Jiujiang, in Jiangxi province, and at a rubber factory in Kunshan, Jiangsu.
Geoffrey Crothall, spokesman for the Hong Kong-based China Labor Bulletin, said workers had largely been willing to bide their time and accept their wages during the economic slowdown. But since the economy began to boom again, they have worked longer hours with no appreciable improvement in income, prompting some to take action, he said.
"They see strikes have been successful elsewhere and decide to try their luck."
Despite Foxconn's billionaire chief Terry Gou saying he would talk to his customers about raising the price of their product to accommodate wage rises, economists appear sanguine about the effects of pay hikes in China.
"Big wage increases in China are stoking concern about inflation and corporate profitability," Capital Economic senior China economist Mark Williams said. "But they represent catch-up after two years in which wage growth was weak. Furthermore, double-digit increases should not in themselves be any cause for concern."
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