Shenzhen backs down on migrant worker protest ban

The Shenzhen government has withdrawn regulations issued on 1 May that would have effectively criminalized migrant worker protests demanding the payment of wage arrears during the run-up to and duration of the World University Games.

A spokesman for the city’s housing and construction bureau apologised on 10 May for the wording of the document, which led to a storm of criticism in the media when it was announced. The regulations will now be revised, the spokesman said, without going into detail.

The move follows a highly publicised and highly popular SWAT team raid on a construction site in Chongqing, which resulted in workers getting their back pay and the thugs who had been hired to beat them up getting arrested. The Chongqing raid clearly showed that there is a huge amount of public sympathy for the plight of migrant workers and the Shenzhen government now seems to realise that attempts to prevent migrant workers from protesting rather than resolving their legitimate grievances will backfire badly.

However, the government is still under pressure to ensure that the University Games, the biggest sporting event in the city’s history, goes ahead without a hitch. The city will undoubtedly deploy large numbers of police to ensure that any protests do not get out of hand but at the same time it has the opportunity to take concrete steps towards improving labour relations and ensuring workers’ demands and grievances are addressed in a timely manner.

The municipal trade union federation has already announced plans to negotiate and sign collective wage agreements at 550 enterprises this year, part of a five year plan to “reduce wage inequality and allow the city’s millions of migrant workers to share in the benefits of economic development.” However, Shenzhen’s proposed Collective Bargaining Regulations, which could help boost wages and improve working conditions in the city’s factories and offices, have apparently been put on hold until after the University Games in August.

And, given the rapidly increasing cost of living in the city, it seems inevitable that more strikes and protests will break out as the summer progresses.
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