Worker unrest erupts in cities

PUBLISHED : Friday, 29 December, 2000, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 29 December, 2000, 12:00am

Protests by angry workers have broken out in two major industrial cities over the past few days, a human rights group and state media reported.

About 1,000 workers in Wuhan, Hubei province, blocked the main street outside the government headquarters for three days, the Hong Kong-based Information Centre for Human Rights and Democracy said yesterday. They were protesting against lay-offs and a lack of back pay by Wuhan Heavy Machinery Plant.

The group said 3,990 workers were laid off by the ailing state enterprise earlier this year. The management had signed agreements with the workers, promising to pension them off according to the years they had worked at the plant.

Workers became angry when management declared the agreement invalid last week. They took to the street on Tuesday.

A similar protest was staged by 500 workers in inland Chongqing city yesterday, the group said. The workers from Chongqing Special Steel Plant blocked the road demanding the company pay pensions as promised.

Meanwhile, in Anhui province, state media reported that hundreds of migrant workers clashed with police on Tuesday night, as farmers tried to free a colleague who had been arrested.

The Hefei Evening News said two trucks carrying building materials were stopped by a group of migrant workers on the outskirts of Hefei city. The road - under construction by migrant workers - was not ready for traffic. As the trucks tried to force their way through, a quarrel broke out and quickly turned into a fight.

As the police were questioning both parties, more farmers arrived. Another team of police had to be called in to end the fracas. They arrested one protester named only as Yang.

As the police retreated, they were blocked by hundreds more farmers who rushed to try and free the man. Police fired warning shots into the air, but they were unable to deter the farmers from trying to rescue the man. Villagers marched on with bricks and iron bars; some tried to disarm the police.

During the struggle, Yang managed to escape. More than 100 additional police were mobilised to seize Yang again. About 30 others were taken into custody.