Honda Motor has said a key car parts factory in south China resumed full production on Wednesday, ending more than two weeks of disruption after workers downed tools to demand higher wages in a high-profile and sometimes violent strike, but the resumption did not mark a clean end to the prolonged labour dispute, with part of the workforce agreeing to return only until Friday, when they expect the company to respond to a list of as yet unmet demands.
The automaker has had to suspend vehicle production in the world’s biggest and fastest-growing car market since last week after workers at the 1,900-strong wholly owned parts factory, in Foshan, Guangdong province, refused to work until their demands for more pay and other conditions were met.
Reuters noted that strikes are technically illegal in China, which fears any overt signs of social unrest, but more disputes have been eurpting between workers resentful of large income disparities and harsh working conditions, and employers trying to rein in rising costs.
On Wednesday, Taiwan’s Hon Hai Precision Industry said it plans to raise workers’ salaries by 30% at its Foxconn manufacturing hub in southern China, following a string of suicides there.
Honda said its four Chinese car factories, with combined annual output capacity of 650,000 units, would remain idled as planned at least to the end of Thursday and it will decide that day whether to restart production on Friday.
Honda has put the politically sensitive negotiations in the hands of local government experts and government-backed union members, some of whom clashed with factory workers on Monday.
Honda spokeswoman Akemi Ando told the news agency most of the workers at the parts factory had agreed to come back to work for the company’s offer for a 24% hike in starting salary. She added that some were still holding out but their numbers were decreasing.
On Tuesday, Zeng Qinghong, a member of the National People’s Congress and vice chairman of a Honda joint venture partner, Guangzhou Automobile Group, visited the factory to negotiate with the workers on behalf of the company, Honda said. It declined to provide details.
But the South China Morning Post said some workers only agreed a temporary return.
“Our offer is that we will return to work immediately and give the Honda management three days to agree to our terms,” the newspaper quoted a 19-year-old intern from Hunan as saying. “If we fail to hear from them we will launch another strike.”
About a third of the plant’s workforce are interns, who as vocational students typically receive lower wages and fewer benefits than regular employees. Many factories in southern China employ interns, who are required by their schools to complete a stint at manufacturing sites.
Interns at the plant are seeking, among other demands, a CNY800 (US$117.2) monthly salary hike, an annual salary increase of no less than 15%, year-end bonuses no less than the preceding year’s, salaries during the strike period and a new chairman to lead a restructured union.
An 18-year-old intern told Reuters on Tuesday the company had offered a rise of CNY477 per month for interns, from a base ranging from CNY900 to CNY1,300. The legal minimum wage is CNY920.
A worker at the parts factory confirmed he had received notice to return to work as normal on Wednesday.
Honda sold about 580,000 cars in China last year, about 17% of its global sales. Even as workers at the parts plant went on strike last week, the automaker announced expansion fresh plans to lift production capacity in China to 830,000 units a year as it aims to catch up with rivals including Toyota and Nissan Motor.