10/07/2004, 00.00
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Workers in Shenzhen protest at low wages, long hours

Hong Kong (AsiaNews/SCMP) - About 3,000 workers protested outside an electronics factory in Shenzhen yesterday against low pay and harsh working conditions.  The workers, employed by the Hong Kong-mainland joint-venture company Computime, rallied outside the factory early in the morning, blocking the entrance and part of a main road. Long traffic jams formed.  Minor scuffles broke out when more than 100 police officers arrived to keep order, and some workers claimed they had been beaten by the officers.

The workers are unhappy with their salary, which they say is only half the minimum wage set by the government. They also claimed they had been forced to work long hours with little compensation.

One protester said: "Our basic salary is only 230 yuan [ about 28 US dollars] a month. We have to work 14 hours a day, seven days a week. The compensation for overtime is only 2 yuan an hour. We can't eke out a living with such a salary."

The minimum wage level in Guangdong is 574 yuan a month. Shenzhen is one of the richest cities on the mainland and the cost of living there is considerably higher than in the rest of the country.

"A lunchbox costs you about 12 yuan. With the salary we are getting, we can hardly feed ourselves," one worker said.

The workers said they have been forced to work long hours without a break.

"Each time you go to the toilet you have to apply to the squad leader first and then sign your name on a logbook. If you spend more than five minutes in the loo, you will be fined," the worker said.

Many Computime employers said they had suffered injuries resulting from their long working hours but had had to continue working without proper treatment as the company refused to pay medical insurance for them.

"My leg was broken during an industrial accident," said one worker, showing her injuries. "But I had to carry on with my work or otherwise I would lose my job."

Most of the workers are migrants from poor inland provinces who say they came to Shenzhen in the hope of earning money to send to their families who are living on the edge of poverty.

Computime, which employs about 4,000 workers, is a joint venture between Hong Kong businessman Auyeung Pok-hong and a mainland company. The workers said their Hong Kong boss had treated them well but their salary had been "taken away" by the mainland management. "Mr Auyeung gives us HK0 a month but the money that actually comes to us is only 230 yuan," they said.

A spokesman for Computime denied the company had paid a salary lower than the minimum standard wage. He also dismissed the workers' claim that they were not allowed to take rest breaks.  "Our management is holding talks with the workers' representatives. The Shenzhen government is also sending officials to help settle the incident," he said.

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