Production resumed at a South Korean electronics factory in Nanjing late yesterday afternoon after management reached a deal with workers who had been on strike for three days over year-end bonuses.
Hundreds of police were on guard and dozens of police vehicles lined the road outside the huge LG Display plant in an industrial zone on the northeastern edge of the city, but there were no signs of protest inside the factory gates.
China Labour Watch and online postings said about 8,000 workers downed tools at the plant on Monday following rumours that Korean staff were being given bonuses equal to 6 1/2 months' pay, while local staff were to receive just one extra month's salary.
Factory management said operations resumed at 4pm yesterday after the company agreed to double the bonus for Chinese staff.
The strike is the latest in a series of labour disputes to hit factories on the mainland over the past two months, starting with plants in Guangdong and spreading to the Yangtze River Delta.
The heavy police presence in Nanjing yesterday is a reflection of the authorities' intense nervousness about social tensions and public unrest in the face of a bleak outlook for the global economy.
Industry figures privately warn that the mainland's credit shortage is likely to lead to more disputes in the immediate future. Construction workers are expected to bear the brunt if cash-strapped developers default on wages and bonus payments ahead of next month's Lunar New Year break.
Staff leaving the Nanjing factory yesterday confirmed the strike was over, but were unwilling to talk at length due to the police presence.
Videos posted online which appeared to have been shot at the scene earlier this week showed huge crowds of workers massed outside the building and in the entrance hallway, many of them taking photos with their mobile phones.
In one, workers called the official labour union 'useless' - a common complaint on the mainland due to unions' government-affiliated status and a perceived tendency to side with bosses rather than the workforce.
Another video showed a crowd of protesters toppling a five-metre-high Christmas tree on the factory's forecourt.
However, management said only 'a small proportion' of the more than 10,000-strong workforce had taken part in the strike, which it said was due to 'misunderstandings'. Public relations staff at the factory said yesterday the large crowds in the video were not involved.
'Most of the people there were simply bystanders who were watching the small group of protesters, which is very common in China,' one said. 'There were only so many people there because it happened to be lunchtime.'
The company also rejected claims that staff members' Lunar New Year payments were based on their nationality. 'It is not true that Korean staff are being given an unfair advantage,' said a member of staff at the company's China head office in Beijing.
She added that some staff had been disappointed that the Lunar New Year bonus was lower than the previous year's. 'The bonus last year was higher due to a productivity bonus because the plant achieved all its targets,' she said. 'That was not the case this year, and this caused some confusion.'
Another executive at the company's head office in Seoul, who asked not to be named, said Korean staff were not receiving annual bonuses at all, due to an austerity policy covering international operations due to the poor economic outlook.