600 Guilin tour guides held after protest over pay

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 31 July, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 31 July, 2007, 12:00am

More than 600 tour guides from the Guangxi tourism destination of Guilin have been detained for demonstrating to demand government help to improve their working conditions.

A protester detained for about seven hours on Sunday night said more than 1,000 guides gathered in front of the city government hall in Guilin's central square throughout the night, waving banners and shouting: 'We need to eat.'

The protesters urged the government to intervene, cancel all cheap tours offered at less than cost price and to insist travel agents pay the guides basic salaries.

Several thousand regular and city police used force to break up the protest at 11pm, the protester said.

'I saw a girl badly beaten and bleeding and a middle-aged woman was beaten by police while she was taking pictures,' he said.

He said he was detained a11pm and released early yesterday after being questioned by police for nearly seven hours.

'I heard that most guides were released this morning after they, just like me, signed a letter to promise not to take part in similar demonstrations,' the protester said.

Guilin's propaganda office and police declined to give details about the protest or the detentions.

The demonstrations started on July 26 after the city party committee-owned Guilin Daily said tour guides had damaged the city's reputation by cheating visitors and were earning too much in commission from the attractions and shops they took their groups to.

'But the report did not mention our poor work conditions,' the protester said.

'Do people really know that guides do not have any salaries and we are not covered by any social security programme?

'The commissions are our only income. If the tourists do not visit the parks or shops as we recommend, we earn nothing.'

The city has 8,000 to 9,000 tour guides, and the source said many were angry because tourism authorities had promised to address problems for years but had done nothing. Instead, the government had shirked its responsibilities by criticising the guides.

The protester said some of his friends were striking by keeping their mobile phones turned off so travel agents could not contact them to accompany tour groups.

'And I heard that they are planning another big demonstration from August 1 to August 3,' he said.

Hong Kong Travel Industry Council executive director Joseph Tung Yiu-chung said no Hong Kong tourists had been affected by the events in Guilin.

'The operations of Hong Kong tourists travelling to Guilin are quite normal,' Mr Tung said.

He said he had faxed the Guilin Municipal Tourism Bureau expressing the Hong Kong tourism industry's concern about the incident.