Hundreds of laid-off former bank employees have attended a rally in Beijing demanding better benefits. Many had outwitted police to be able to attend the protest, which was eventually attacked by police.
The participants were all former employees of China’s big five state-owned commercial banks: Bank of China, China Construction Bank, Industrial and Commercial Bank of China, Agricultural Bank of China, and Industrial Bank Co., Ltd.
The demonstrators gathered at around 8:30 a.m. Monday outside the headquarters of the All-China Federation of Trade Unions, yelling slogans and unfurling banners.
An anonymous protester said Monday that the group shouted slogans such as, “President Hu [Jintao], we want food,” “Premier Wen [Jiabao], we want jobs,” “We have to support our parents, we have to raise our children,” and “We gave the banks our early life, but the banks destroyed our later life.”
Despite facing economic hardships, petitioners at the scene donated funds for victims of a devastating earthquake in China’s western Qinghai province, which killed more than 2,000 and injured around 12,000 according to the latest count.
The laid-off workers then went to petition the central bank, the People’s Bank of China, where they were violently scattered by police.
“We yelled slogans and sang the national anthem when police suddenly rushed into us, taking some away with them and dispersing the crowd,” the protester said.
“Some of us were taken to the detention center in Majialou. During the clash a protester had a heart attack. We don’t know yet what happened to this person,” he added.
Protesters turned back
Petitioners said the Monday protest was one of the largest held in recent years by China’s bank employees. On Sunday, however, authorities stopped many more laid-off bank employees from traveling to Beijing for the demonstration.
In China’s northern Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, unemployed bank worker Yang Xiaodong was taken away by police Sunday evening after contacting a rights group by cell phone to discuss the next day’s rally. But many petitioners outwitted police, eventually arriving in Beijing on Monday to take part in the protest.
One petitioner from China’s northeastern Liaoning province said following the protests Monday that he had lost his job in 2003 when he was in his 40s.
“I was forced to leave my job in 2003. It has been impossible for me to get another job as nowadays even college graduates can hardly find a job. There is no way for me to make a living,” the petitioner said. He said he has been petitioning since being laid off, but has received nothing in compensation.
Another demonstrator was a former cashier with the China Construction Bank in Lanzhou, capital of northwestern Gansu province.
“The bank terminated my employment contract in 2000 saying I had ‘no bank title, no college diploma, and no fixed position,’” he said.
Another laid-off worker, also from northwestern China, said he had been intimidated by authorities to sign an agreement to terminate his employment contract.
“That was in November 2004, in our Ningxia branch of the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China. We were given just three days to sign the contract and leave. If not, we wouldn’t receive even a penny in compensation.”
Hubei-based rights activist Liu Feiyue said China must spend more time addressing the needs of petitioners instead of simply trying to ignore their problems.
“The government is rather willing to allot a huge amount of money in stopping people from petitioning in Beijing, but not willing to give much smaller amounts to help weak petitioners,” he said.
The head of China's judiciary called on courts to maintain social stability in early last year amid the global economic slowdown, saying the number of labor disputes had jumped by 94 percent in the first 10 months of 2008, compared with the same period the year before.
The "Regulation on Petitions" issued by China's State Council states that petitioners may voice their grievances to higher-level government offices. But those trying to do so are frequently held in unofficial detention centers, or "black jails," before being taken back to their hometowns.
Many petitioners have spent years pursuing complaints against local officials over disputes including the loss of homes and farmland, unpaid wages and pensions, or alleged mistreatment by the authorities. Parents of children affected in the tainted milk powder scandal in 2008, and those who lost children when schools collapsed during the 2008 Sichuan earthquake, have joined their numbers. Few report getting a satisfactory result, and most say they have become a target of further harassment by the authorities.