China bank workers laid off a decade ago demand better compensation
Employees who lost jobs 10 years ago, before banks' listings, demand better compensation
Hundreds of former employees staged protests in Beijing against China's largest banks yesterday, saying they were not paid adequate compensation when they were laid off a decade ago.
They gathered outside the headquarters of Industrial and Commercial Bank of China (ICBC) and China Construction Bank in a rare mass petition against the lenders.
The demonstrators are demanding changes to their compensation packages, which, they say, were forced on them when the banks cut their workforces before their listings.
Mainland banks had mountains of bad debt before they listed in 2005 and 2006. As part of a drive to improve efficiency, the lenders eliminated jobs.
Construction Bank and ICBC eventually staged dramatic turnarounds. They went from being near collapse to becoming two of the world's biggest banks.
One of the protesters, Li Li, 53, a former Construction Bank accountant, said she was given 4,000 yuan a year for her 25 years of service at its Yaan branch in the southwestern province of Sichuan in 2003.
Protester Li Li
"I didn't want to leave, but the branch head organised various tests to prove I was incompetent and gave me poor grades in appraisals. He tricked me into leaving voluntarily by telling me that all staff would be laid off eventually," she said.
"Months later, I gave in to the mental torture and handed in my resignation letter, which was basically drafted by the bank."
More such petitions are in the offing as compensation paid a decade ago was little compared with the fat profit the lenders are making today. But the petitioners will find it difficult to press their case without proof of lenders' misconduct, say legal experts.
Li said she started petitioning in 2005. She has since met many like her outside the bank's offices, the petition bureau and in internet chat rooms. She learned from some fellow petitioners that they would go to Beijing to lodge their protest and accompanied them.
Construction Bank said the petitioners, laid off in 2003 when the bank was restructured to become a joint-stock company, were demanding a change in compensation but did not elaborate. According to ICBC, the people who gathered outside its headquarters came from various provinces and had worked for several banks.
"These people planned and organised sit-ins outside several financial institutions," ICBC said. "Our bank is highly attentive to this development and will properly handle it, in accordance with China's petition regulations."
Zou Chaodong, a petitioner who worked in Construction Bank's Yichun branch in Jiangxi province, said the bank had never responded in the seven years he has been petitioning. He said filing a lawsuit was impossible because local courts refused to handle disputes dating to the banks' restructurings.
Zhao Xijun, deputy director of the Finance and Securities Institute at Renmin University, said the reforms had more positive effects than negative ones.
"Without the reforms, there would have been more disputes with the banks collapsing," Zhao said, adding that the banks would handle the disputes on a case-by-case basis and blanket additional compensation was unlikely.