The number of labour-related lawsuits nearly doubled across the mainland last year, largely due to the sharp economic decline and the introduction of a tougher new employment contract law, a senior Supreme People's Court official said. Without giving specific figures for either 2007 or last year, Supreme People's Court deputy president Shen Deyong said on Monday that the number of labour suits filed last year was 95 per cent higher. Xinhua also quoted Mr Shen as saying it was the biggest year-on-year increase in any type of court application. He said the number of suits had risen by about 200 per cent in some eastern and southern coastal cities, the areas worst hit by the fall in exports and the global downturn. Mr Shen attributed the dramatic increase in the number of cases to 'a slump in business and factories being shut down'. 'Many companies fired employees, cut salaries and bonuses, or encouraged staff to take leave without pay to cut costs in the face of the economic downturn,' Xinhua quoted him as saying. 'That caused many disputes.' The new labour contract law that also affected the figures came into effect at the start of last year. There are no official figures, but mainland media frequently report that thousands of bosses have deserted their companies, leaving tens of thousands of workers unpaid. In some cases, migrant workers who are owed wages have protested on the streets or in front of local government buildings. Dongguan-based lawyer Gong Qingcai said the actual number of suits filed would be much higher than any figures in the official report. 'You can see a long queue of migrant workers waiting outside the court every day,' he said. 'Under this new law, workers have been allowed to challenge unfair pay and working conditions.' In Dongguan, the court in Tangxia town alone accepted nearly 8,000 cases last year - most involving labour disputes and bankruptcies. 'With more factory shutdowns this year, we will see more workers joining the queue to take the bosses to court, asking for overtime pay, compensation and back pay,' Mr Gong said. Journalists in the Pearl River Delta have also noticed a rise in workplace disputes. 'Workers involved in labour disputes call our paper day and night from Shenzhen, Dongguan, Guangzhou, Foshan and anywhere in the delta,' a Shenzhen-based reporter said. 'We used to send reporters when had such calls before. But there are more and more dispute-related protests. Now we can only report on mass clashes because we have countless disputes.'