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Wednesday, 13 March, 2002, 15:26 GMT
Chinese oil workers in massive protest
Chinese appliance factory
State-run industry reforms have led to protests
Tens of thousands of sacked workers have surrounded the main office at China's largest oilfield in protest against cuts in their lay-off benefits.

Up to 50,000 protesters are reported to have gathered every day at the Daqing oil field in north-eastern Heilongjiang province for nearly two weeks.


The workers have real grievances, and they seem to be committed to continuing the protests

Han Dongfang, Chinese labour activist
Han Dongfang, a Chinese labour activist based in Hong Kong, said that the authorities had readied paramilitary police and a military tank unit, but that there had been no confrontations.

The BBC Beijing correspondent says this is one of the biggest labour protests in China in recent years.

An oil company official said the protests were the result of a misunderstanding and "should be resolved soon".

A local official confirmed that the demonstrations had been going on, but said the police were not interfering.

Redundancies

Reports said the workers were protesting against cuts in severance pay and heating subsidies promised them when they were sacked three years ago, and an increase in unemployment insurance premiums.

"The workers have real grievances, and they seem to be committed to continuing the protests until those grievances are addressed," said Mr Han.

Han Dongfang
Dongfang said the army had been readied
Mr Han's organisation, the Chinese Labor Bulletin, says the workers have set up their own independent union.

This is illegal in China, where workers can only seek redress through official unions controlled by the Communist Party.

Daqing oil field is China's biggest, and opened in the 1950s.

It was long-promoted as a symbol of China's revolutionary industrialisation, employing some 300,000 workers at its height.

But the Daqing fields are now well past their peak, revenues are falling and thousands of workers have been sacked in recent years.

Our correspondent says labour unrest is growing across China as economic reforms force decrepit state run industries to lay off millions of workers.

See also:

21 Sep 01 | Asia-Pacific
Chinese labour activist jailed
19 Sep 01 | Business
Inside China: Workers on the move
11 Mar 01 | Asia-Pacific
China unveils huge welfare plan
07 Mar 01 | Asia-Pacific
Rising child labour in China
03 Jul 00 | Asia-Pacific
China's state industries cut losses
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