By Xinhua writers Fu Qing and Lyu Dong
GUANGZHOU, Feb. 12 (Xinhua) -- A strike staged by a group of security escorts in south China's Guangdong Province on Tuesday has revealed their long-standing labor dispute with their employer.
Hundreds of employees of Guangzhou Sui Bao Escort & Convoy Company, a firm that provides armed escorts for transporting cash and securities for financial institutions in the provincial capital of Guangzhou, rallied around an intersection in the city on Tuesday morning.
The rally forced the one-way closure of a major north-to-south road in the city and also disrupted routine escort services for local financial institutions.
The company's clients include major retail branches of state-owned and commercial banks in Guangzhou. Tuesday's strike caused some banks to temporarily suspend their cash withdrawal service.
Banks contacted by Xinhua said customers were able to withdraw cash from their branches in the city on Wednesday as the company's employees ended their strike and resumed escort service.
Employees who took to the street on Tuesday held banners calling the company a "sweat shop" that exploits its employees. Strikers told Xinhua that they were self-mobilized as a result of longtime complaints against the company over salaries, employment benefits, safety and corporate policies.
Strikers left the street at around 3:30 p.m. on Tuesday, after authorities arranged a meeting with the company's employees to hear their grievances and promised to resolve their issues.
"With all these tensions between us and the management, I don't think the company should continue to turn a blind eye against our concerns," said one company employee who went on strike on Tuesday.
Xie Xiaodan, police chief of Guangzhou Municipal Public Security Bureau, said the strike is a release of long-time discontent with the company's management loopholes.
He also said the employees should seek to resolve their issues through dialogue, instead of taking to the street and disrupting public order. But many of the company's employees said they resorted to the strike after repeated efforts to engage the company's top executives in discussion yielded no progress in their negotiations for better treatment.
On Tuesday afternoon, local authorities brought together employees and the company's senior management in a meeting, where 30 employee representatives discussed their issues with the company.
At one point during the two-hour-long meeting, an employee said they would continue to strike unless authorities and the company promised a monthly raise of up to 1000 yuan.
More than 300 people crammed into the 200-square-meter meeting room, eager to see how a government-mediated intervention would resolve their dispute with the company.
Some employees said the issues they discussed with company executives and government officials at the meeting have been repeatedly communicated to the company's management in the past, but all to no avail.
Employees also claimed that the lack of transparency in the company's senior management has led to corruption.
The company didn't respond to Xinhua's request for comments.
Guangzhou police chief Xie Xiaodan later told the strikers that the government will form a special panel to work out solutions to the dispute as soon as the end of this month.
THE REAL DEAL
When Liang was discharged from the military last year, he decided to become a security escort after years of watching Hong Kong movies featuring well-trained guards who faced tremendous ordeals and eventually saved the day.
After three months of orientation and probation at Guangzhou Sui Bao Escort & Convoy Company, Liang got a taste of the real deal.
Liang said he was only paid 2,000 yuan during the probation period and less than 3,000 after formal employment, which barely let the 23-year-old make ends meet in one of China's most expensive cities.
Now four months into his job, Liang said his work is nothing more than long hours of carrying a gun and traveling along with piles of cash, and with pay and living conditions no better than normal security guards.
Another escort who entered the company a decade earlier than Liang said that other than the menial pay, there is actual value and a sense of achievement in what they do.
"We are not your average security guards," the escort said. "We carry guns and oversee the transport of cash to make sure they reach their destination safe and sound."
The company's escort service covers 12 districts and counties in Guangzhou. Traveling the longest route takes up to 15 hours on a working day, double the time for shorter downtown routes.
Despite the difference in workload, escorts are paid roughly the same. Some employees told Xinhua that this indiscriminate payment policy has prompted some to bribe senior executives in exchange for working on less tiring routes.
Employees are also concerned about the company's lack of security management. An employee of the firm died earlier this month when his own gun misfired.
An employee said top executives once openly denied employees' demands for better treatment, with one executive saying, "You don't have any expertise or diploma. Go quit the job if you are not happy with what you have."
While escorts are anxiously waiting for a better deal to emerge after their strike caught the attention of authorities, for now it seems they have to live with what they have.