State sector employees tighten belts ahead of Lunar New Year

Employees take to social media to complain of unpaid wages, year-end bonuses.
By Gu Ting for RFA Mandarin
2024.02.09
State sector employees tighten belts ahead of Lunar New Year A bank employee counts 100-yuan notes at a counter in Nantong, China, June 13, 2023.
(AFP)

China's state employees say they are tightening their belts ahead of once-lavish Lunar New Year celebrations, amid backlogs of unpaid salaries and slashed bonuses at cash-strapped local governments and state sector companies.

The struggling economy has increasingly left governments and the public sector unable to pay bonuses and wages. It has also forced organizations to impose salary cuts where they might once have enjoyed generous perks and payouts.

A Feb. 6 viral post on Weibo by employees at Shanghai's state-owned Pudong Development Bank said they had been given a "New Year's Letter" in place of their expected year-end bonuses, which are typically issued in the form of a 13th month's pay ahead of the Lunar New Year festivities.

At least one website, Hexun.com, appeared on Thursday to have deleted an article about the post, offering only the message: "This content is being upgraded. Please try again later."

Meanwhile, employees at the Bank of Guangzhou also took to social media to complain that their bonuses had yet to land. The Lunar New Year this year starts on Feb. 10.

The iFeng news service reported on Thursday that the Guangzhou bank employees had subsequently received their bonuses after they posted about the matter.

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Men pass a branch of the Shanghai Pudong Development Bank in Beijing on June 26, 2019. Bank employees say they received a "New Year's Letter" instead of the expected year-end bonus. (Ng Han Guan/AP)

An employee at a bank in Shanghai who gave only the surname Zhou for fear of reprisals said Chinese banks – the majority of which are state-owned – have been cutting pay and benefits steadily over the past few months, with many employees now down to their basic salary with no perks or benefits.

"This is a common phenomenon," she told RFA Mandarin on Thursday. "The composition of people's income used to be pretty complicated, with a bunch of performance bonuses, meal subsidies, car subsidies, housing subsidies and so on."

"Now, a lot of hidden subsidies have been removed."

She said employees at the major state-owned banks and smaller local banks are all affected by the cuts.

Singing praises

The flurry of reports came as the ruling Chinese Communist Party pushes ahead with a fresh crackdown on online "rumors," and as its leader Xi Jinping called on the All China Federation of Industry and Commerce to help sing the praises of the Chinese economy.

"The ACFIC should guide private entrepreneurs to consolidate their confidence in development and collectively advocate for the bright future of China's economy," he told a pre-New Year's conference with the organization.

Reports of industrial disputes and unpaid wages are highly sensitive topics for the ruling Communist Party, which is keen to eliminate negative reports about the economy in a bid to boost confidence.

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People walk past an office of the Cyberspace Administration of China in Beijing, July 8, 2021. (Thomas Peter/Reuters)

In late December, the Jiangxi provincial government reported social media users to the Cyberspace Administration for "rumor-mongering" after employees at the Zhengzhou Public Transport Group issued a document encouraging employees with more than 10 years' service to leave the company and start their own businesses.

An employee at a private company in Jiangxi who gave only the surname Liu for fear of reprisals said the reports were likely true, adding that her friends in the public sector have been getting their salaries cut by 20-30% this year.

"In Jiangxi, they've had notice of 30% reductions in salary," Liu said. "Our company has no projects to work on right now. In other words, I have nothing to do."

"My boss says he wants us to get through this together – either way, I'm not resigning," she said in a Dec. 27 interview with RFA Mandarin. 

A resident of Jiangxi's Jingdezhen city said in another Dec. 27 interview that her mother's New Year retirement benefit of 1,200 yuan wasn't being paid either this year.

"Retirees should get this benefit once a year, in the form of 1,200 yuan on a shopping card," Yao Xiuzhen said. "That won't be issued this year."

A 2023 survey by the government-backed All-China Federation of Trade Unions published on the 51job recruitment website showed that around one-third of workers won't be getting a year-end bonus this year in time to usher in the Year of the Dragon on Friday.

The survey was based on responses from 2,478 professionals, of whom 50.9% had been working less than five years, and 30.8% had between five and eight years' experience, the report said, without mentioning an error margin or confidence interval.

The Hong Kong-based China Labour Bulletin's Strike Map, which tracks media and social media reports of labor disputes across the country, showed 174 disputes relating to "wage arrears," including 56 at state-owned enterprises, since Jan. 1, 2024.

Translated by Luisetta Mudie. Edited by Malcolm Foster.



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