Shenzhen strike strands thousands

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 30 August, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 30 August, 2008, 12:00am

Tens of thousands of cross-border commuters have been left stranded in Shenzhen over the past week after 160 bus drivers and conductors went on strike in support of a claim for more overtime pay and higher wages to compensate for the rising inflation.

In the past five months, more than 500 drivers and conductors from the city's 17 privately operated bus lines have periodically gone on strike for better pay and working conditions after laws expanded workers' rights and eliminated the fee to file an arbitration claim.

A strike by Kingwell bus drivers from the No367 route connecting the Huanggang checkpoint and Baoan district entered a fourth day yesterday as workers vowed to stay off the job until labour arbitration authorities resolved the dispute.

Strikers said they were scraping by on just 2,500 yuan (HK$2,860) a month for working 15 hours a day and were owed back pay, overtime and social insurance coverage.

They lodged a claim with Shenzhen's arbitration commission for 6 million yuan in accrued overtime payments and compensation.

A Kingwell spokeswoman said the strike was a result of the new labour contract law, which required employers to strictly follow instructions on overtime hours.

She said many other mainland companies had confronted similar problems and were still waiting for the results of arbitration.

Mainland media reported that the strike started on Tuesday when more than 100 bus drivers and conductors met at the arbitration commission to seek a decision in their cases but failed to get an immediate response from the authorities.

The drivers of at least 53 Kingwell buses refused to go back to work and service was suspended.

The workers said they had been waiting for two years for the company to implement a commission-ordered eight-hour workday and the new national labour law entitled them to claim overtime pay.

They said they expected the authorities to mediate the dispute and help them get better wages and more respect in the workplace.

Other transport operators have been providing limited services for stranded commuters.

Guangdong's low wages and high cost of living have made the province a less attractive destination for many migrant workers, so much so that bus operators have been forced to recruit from as far afield as Shandong to find people willing to work for 2,500 yuan a month, said a spokesman from the government-owned Shenzhen Bus Group.