A strike involving 300 sanitation workers in Guangzhou's Yuexiu district was expected to enter its third day today, with workers demanding unpaid wages and higher salaries.
The disgruntled workers gathered yesterday around People's Park, located across from the headquarters of the Guangzhou city government, during ongoing sessions of the city's People's Congress and its People's Political Consultative Conference.
The demonstration by frontline sanitation workers, in light of other recent rows involving labour disputes in Guangzhou and across the country, highlights a trend in which growing labour tensions no longer involve only migrant workers at factories.
It did not take long for the effects to be seen throughout Yuexiu district: rubbish bins were already overflowing yesterday and main roads remained unclean.
A 50-year-old sanitation worker from Sichuan province said she and her colleagues were not being paid enough by their employer - the contractor hired by the city to manage sanitation.
"We rose at 3am, and some [of us] even worked throughout the evening, to ensure that the streets were spotless - with not even a single cigarette butt - when Guangzhou was competing for a civilised-city title," she said. "But now that no one is inspecting the streets after the clean-up campaign, our employer has trimmed our annual leave and reduced overtime pay."
The workers said conditions were better when they were directly hired and managed by the government. "We used to work eight hours a day, including breaks, but now it's nine hours … excluding meal time," she said.
Currently earning an average of about 1,600 yuan (HK$1,970), the workers hope their pay rises to about 2,000 yuan a month.
A 45-year-old sanitation worker from Sichuan, who has been working for 18 years, said she had made about 1,400 yuan a month since 2010, without any pay increase. This was "barely enough to cover rent and food, which cost about 1,600 yuan a month".
"We gave our blood and sweat before the Asian Games to ensure the city was spotless, but no one is paying any attention to us now.
"We have no education and we come from very poor areas," she added. "We are happy if we can earn enough just to make ends meet, but now we have no choice but to go on strike."