Dozens Hurt in Labor Unrest at China Rubber Factory

Meanwhile, Honda is hit by third work stoppage.

Dozens of striking employees have been hurt in clashes with police in China as Honda was hit by a third work stoppage Wednesday, in the latest labor unrest to disrupt the "workshop of the world."

The fresh labor action, which came after a spate of suicides at Taiwanese high-tech firm Foxconn, again drew attention to what activists say are the difficult conditions and low pay faced by millions of Chinese factory workers.

Honda's production in China has been crippled, with two assembly plants to remain closed indefinitely over the strike at a joint venture making exhaust system parts. A new strike hit a factory making door locks and key sets.

Monday's clashes at a Taiwan-funded rubber factory in eastern China's Jiangsu province marked the first time in recent days that disputes over salaries erupted in violence, with state media saying 50 workers were hurt.

Some 2,000 workers at the KOK Machinery factory in the city of Kunshan outside Shanghai walked off the assembly line, demanding better pay and an improved working environment, the China Daily reported.

The injuries occurred when security forces tried to prevent the workers from taking their strike into the streets, the report said.

Photos of the incident showed police and special security forces massed outside the gates of the facility, preventing workers from exiting.

The paper said 50 workers were injured, five of them seriously.

Officials at the factory refused to comment on the strike when contacted by AFP on Wednesday, but said that the workers had returned to work.

"The police beat us indiscriminately. They kicked and stomped on everybody, no matter whether they were male or female," one female worker told the South China Morning Post, which said at least 30 people were arrested.

Workers were asking for hardship pay to compensate them for working in high temperatures, full workers' insurance, housing subsidies and a change to make work on Saturdays voluntary, according to postings seen in Chinese chat rooms.

Some of those postings were later deleted.

"We have to work in temperatures of 40 to 50 degrees Celsius [104 to 122 degrees Fahrenheit]. They refuse to do anything about the heat," one worker told the Hong Kong-based Post. "The smell from the rubber is unbearable, but we don't even get a toxic fumes subsidy."

Geoff Crothall of the Hong Kong-based China Labor Bulletin linked the upsurge in labor strife to the general economic recovery, saying workers were less inclined to accept low pay, and were facing long hours as orders picked up.

"We are finding in the last few years, particularly since the labor contract law in 2008, workers are more aware of their rights and more willing to stand up for their rights," Crothall told AFP.

"Workers just want to work somewhere that is not oppressive and is decent," he noted. "I think labor activism in China comes in waves, but over the last few years there's been an increase in the intensity and frequency of these waves."

Foxconn -- which counts Apple, Sony and Hewlett-Packard among its clients -- has agreed to a 67% pay hike for its hundreds of thousands of workers in China after 11 of them committed suicide, 10 in the southern city of Shenzhen.

Its parent company, Hon Hai Precision Industry, lost more than US$3 billion in market value in two days this week as investors fretted over the pay increases.

Honda is reeling from a series of work stoppages that have disrupted its annual production of 650,000 vehicles a year in China. The first strike was resolved when Honda agreed to a 24% pay rise.

The second, at a joint venture factory of Honda subsidiary Yutaka Giken and a Taiwanese firm, was ongoing Wednesday, forcing Honda to indefinitely close two of its China assembly plants run by Guangqi Honda.

"There is no certainty as to when we can resume operations," a Honda spokeswoman in Tokyo told AFP.

The new strike broke out Wednesday at Honda Lock (Guangdong Guli) Co. Ltd. in the southern city of Zhongshan. A Honda spokesman said that walkout had not affected the company's main assembly lines.

Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2010

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