Social Issues

Tax rise frozen to appease Zhili rioters

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 29 October, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 29 October, 2011, 12:00am

Township authorities delayed a tax rise and dismissed a tax collector after two days of rioting in Huzhou, Zhejiang - home to many small garment factories.

However, the town of Zhili remained tense, with thousands of armed police patrolling key roads. Officers urged factory owners and their workers to return to work.

'The provocative crimes triggered by a handful of illegal parties on October 26 have severely harmed the stability of the Zhili community,' blared a message from speakers mounted on military trucks cruising the town.

'All enterprises should take notice of the impact of the riot, and educate your workers to stick to our law and not take part in any mass incidents.'

Hundreds of factory owners and workers rioted on Wednesday afternoon after a scuffle between a factory boss and Xu Rongquan, a collector hired by Zhili's tax office. The mob set fire to cars and smashed dozens of other vehicles and public facilities in protest at the township authorities' decision to double a levy. Police said three officers were injured, five people arrested and 23 others detained.

The Huzhou Daily, an official newspaper published by the city government, yesterday described the riot as 'a mass petitioning incident' sparked by 'simplistic tax-collecting methods by an individual collector'.

The Zhili township government sent a public text message saying that Xu had been sacked and the tax office had decided to suspend the increase, which would have doubled the levy on each factory sewing machine to 600 yuan (HK$732).

A migrant worker from Anhui said the move was aimed at encouraging the factories to reopen.

'My boss just told me to return to work tomorrow, otherwise I will be blacklisted,' he said, adding that many others had rejected such orders. 'I will not to go work either because the government is creating an air of tension by sending so many armed police here to warn us, which will only draw further resentment.'

He said workers wanted the local government to respond to rumours that two workers were killed in Wednesday's crackdown. 'I saw two Anhui migrant workers lose consciousness after being beaten by armed police at the scene, but local authorities claim that no one died.'

Factory owner Zhang Jianping said all factories in the town had been closed since Wednesday, and all local kindergartens and primary schools had suspended classes. 'I sent all my family members to the neighbouring town of Nanxun because it is too dangerous here.'

Zhili is known as the 'capital of Chinese children's wear', and two-thirds of its 300,000 population are migrant workers from provinces including Anhui, Sichuan and Henan. Zhejiang government statistics show that the town is home to about 12,200 children's wear factories, which account for more than 30 per cent of the market share on the mainland.

A report on the website of the Zhejiang provincial government's information office said that compared with urban areas of Huzhou, where each factory sewing machine is subject to a tax between 1,000 and 1,200 yuan a year, the 600 yuan demanded in Zhili was very reasonable.

It quoted a tax official in Zhili as saying that the 300 yuan was a preferential rate to encourage people in rural areas to run small businesses. However, many urban factories had moved to rural areas to evade higher taxes and the local authorities had therefore decided to adjust the rate to an appropriate level.