More than 200 female Guangzhou University sanitation workers began a silent protest on August 21. These workers are mostly locals who, after having their farmland and homes demolished, accepted the government’s offer of alternative employment first to work on the construction of the university campus and then as sanitation workers at the university so they would not have to leave their hometown.
However, their employment status and related rights were thrown into disarray after the University’s outsourced its cleaning services to GrounDey Property Management (广州广电物业管理有限公司), a state-owned company, as no care was taken when transferring these cleaners’ employment contracts to GrounDey. Examples of slipshod practices included asking sanitation workers to thumbprint blank sheets of paper to which contracts were then attached, hiring those past the retirement age on zero-hour contracts, not clearly defining working hours and locations and not setting out what capacity these women were employed in. As a result, the employment status of these women is unclear. This is now a problem: GrounDey lost the tender for the University’s cleaning services contract in August this year, and these women face a choice between two unpleasant options: to sign new contracts with GrounDey and be relocated to far-flung cities to work, or to sign on to the new cleaning services provider and lose all their previously-accumulated salaries and benefits.
After receiving no response despite protesting for a week, the workers were subjected to violence on August 29, with their lawyers being taken away and one worker being beaten up by the police. The article is a recount of the reporter’s experience in the sanitation workers face-off against the police, and also narrates some of the protest leaders’ experiences of being subjected to harassment from law enforcement officers and Groundey.
Despite negative publicity being stirred up against them online by suspiciously anonymous posters and the display of violence by law enforcers, these women maintain their sense of humour in courageously standing up for their rights.