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China's Protesting Oil Workers Get Global Union Backing

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11 August, 2005ICEM News release No. 16/2002

The Chinese authorities have stepped up repression against protesting oil workers in the north-eastern city of Daqing, it was reported today.

Meanwhile, the Daqing workers' unofficial union has been contacted by the 20-million-strong International Federation of Chemical, Energy, Mine and General Workers' Unions (ICEM), which has offered them its full support.

Up to 50,000 workers have staged a series of demonstrations in Daqing over the past month, and supporting protests have been reported in other Chinese oil-producing areas.

The Daqing workers had been retrenched from their jobs in one of China's most important state-owned oilfields. Their main grievances concern breaches of their retrenchment agreement with the Daqing Petroleum Administration Bureau (PAB).

In particular, the workers have been protesting over the sudden withdrawal of their winter heating subsidies and against steep increases in the contributions that they have to pay into their social security fund.

They have set up the Daqing PAB Retrenched Workers' Provisional Union Committee, outside of China's official trade union structures.

A Chinese government official has now confirmed that 800 paramilitary police were deployed a week ago to break up the workers' protests, the Hong Kong Liaison Office (IHLO) reports today. The IHLO is run jointly by the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU), the sector-by-sector Global Union Federations, and the Hong Kong union centres HKCTU and HKTUC.

The police are concentrated in Daqing's Iron Man Square. "Since March 25, police have made daily announcements on local radio and TV condemning rising workers' protests for disrupting social order," reports the IHLO. "The announcement - broadcast several times a day - also warns workers may be forcibly removed from the Square."


In a message relayed to Daqing, ICEM General Secretary Fred Higgs sends warm fraternal greetings from the ICEM's more than 20 million members worldwide to "the leadership and membership of the Provisional Workers' Union."

"Over the last few years," Higgs points out, "fellow Chinese workers, particularly in the mining and energy sectors, have been losing jobs on a massive scale as a result of industrial restructuring. Whilst hundreds of thousands workers have become redundant, the social implications require the Chinese Government to take measures, in close consultation with workers, to cushion the effects of unemployment. Anything short of this will no doubt result in more poverty, hunger and social upheaval."

Backing the Daqing workers' demands, Higgs assures them of the ICEM's "full support in your fight against poverty.

"Your determination to succeed against in a very hostile environment has indeed inspired us all, he adds. "But we remain extremely perturbed both by the lack of good faith negotiations to settle the issues in dispute and the heavy-handed response by the authorities."

The Promotion of Good Industrial Relations in the Oil and Gas Industry was the theme of a recent meeting held by the UN's International Labour Organisation (ILO). Taking part were representatives of the official All-China Federation of Trade Unions (ACFTU), the Chinese government and the Chinese employers, along with participants from 17 other countries.

The ILO meeting achieved "a remarkable consensus on the important role social dialogue amongst all parties can play in promoting good industrial relations," Higgs tells the Daqing workers. "This is particularly so in the oil and gas sector where governments have the major investments. We therefore fully support your right to organise and to bargain for your interests."

All parties at the ILO conference, he emphasises,"agreed that 'where reductions in the workforce are likely as a result of corporate restructuring, appropriate measures should be put in place according to good industrial relations practices to protect, as far as possible, workers' rights and interests.' The ICEM played a leading role at this meeting ... We quote these statements in order to confirm the legitimacy and correctness of your demands and actions."

"We await further direction from you to determine our next course of action in support of your demands," the ICEM tells the Daqing workers. "Your struggle is our struggle."

The ICEM has also contacted the official ACFTU and asked it for details of the current situation.

Further support for the Daqing workers has come from the ICFTU, which has now lodged an official complaint with the ILO over the repression directed against independent workers' movements in Daqing and other industrial areas of China.


Workers who have been posting notices or holding banners in Daqing have "disappeared", the IHLO reports today. It also says that a 50-year-old woman worker was beaten and arrested after making a speech in the Square. She is now thought to be on hunger strike in a detention centre. A 60-year-old retiree has also been arrested, according to the IHLO. His whereabouts are unknown.

"At one point," the IHLO says, "city government officials offered to hold negotiations with 10 workers' representatives. After the representatives entered City Hall for the talks, workers waiting outside did not see them leave. They were released after three days on condition that they would no longer go to the Square to join the protests. Authorities continue to refuse any negotiations with the workers and have ensured that the Daqing Petroleum Administrative Bureau (PAB) remains sealed off."