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Strikes as foreign companies pack up

GUANGZHOU (AsiaNews): Thousands of workers at multinational companies have been on strike since November over dissatisfaction with a management decision to sell their facilities to local entrepreneurs.

The tensest situations are at Coca Cola, Danone and Sony. However, Apple, McDonald’s and Kentucky Fried Chicken are moving in the same direction.

At the Coca Cola factory the strike is still ongoing. The United States of America (US)-based franchise has decided to sell its bottling plants to a local partner.

The same problem exists at Danone, which wants to sell Robust Water in Guangzhou to a company in Shenzhen. Sony has also decided to sell its assembly plant in Guangdong to local entrepreneurs.

The China Labour Bulletin explains that the workers are concerned that the sales, of which they are often unaware, have an impact on their lives. The new owners often embark on restructuring, cutting jobs and lowering wages.

They also fear that under local ownership, working conditions will deteriorate. Songbo Liu, a professor on labour issues at Renmin University, says that employees fear that the new Chinese employers will be less generous and more demanding than the multinational corporations.

The strike at Sony ended a few weeks ago. But on November 14 the police clashed with thousands of workers and many were wounded. Eleven workers were arrested.

Sony has paid 1,000 yuan ($1,250) to the workers to end the strike, but also fired dozens who are believed to be the leaders of the demonstrations. It all happened amid the silence of the official national union which approved the outcome as a victory.

At Danone, administrators refused to negotiate with the workers. After two weeks of strike action, police in riot gear entered the factory, injuring several workers. The company has laid off two of them.

Over the past five years, other large foreign groups have left China. Among them the giant US electronics firm, Best Buy; British supermarket, Tesco; and Marks & Spencer. They posit rising costs of labour and the economic slowdown as the reason.

But sometimes it is the strong competition from local firms which undercuts the foreign products in price and sometimes quality.

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