March 2022 labour news roundup: China’s workers in the Covid-19 wave

In this edition: Workers in the pandemic, tech layoffs, parcel delivery rate cuts, food delivery workers’ rewards and punishments, age limits in construction industry, overtime culture, vocational student intern deaths, and a rise in teacher qualification applications

In this edition: How workers are faring under the recent Covid-19 outbreaks in March in Shanghai, Jilin, Shenzhen and other areas in Guangdong; internet companies laying off workers, parcel delivery companies cutting fees, and food delivery platforms adjusting rewards and punishments for drivers; age limits enforced on companies employing construction workers; plus more on overtime culture, internships for vocational school students, and college graduates seeking employment.

The February 2022 roundup is available here

Workers in the pandemic

China’s pandemic prevention strategy of “dynamic zero-Covid” has left hospitals unable to cope. Medical staff have faced higher workloads and hospitals have ignored standard work safety measures. 

CLB has already published about nurses ordered to take care of patients who tested positive in Shanghai’s No. 6 People’s Hospital, working without protective gear or negative pressure rooms. Nurses refused and physically clashed with doctors. 

On 20 March, nurses at Shanghai’s Zhoupu hospital went on strike over the conversion of the hospital into a makeshift Covid-19 hospital. The head nurse said that the sample testing workload was heavy and nurses worked for 36 hours without rest. 

Staff from “volunteer teams” dispatched across the country to carry out compulsory testing have been overworked, and some have even died from exhaustion. Wang Meng, a physician at the Inner Mongolia Hospital of Traditional Chinese Medicine, fainted on 4 March and died shortly afterward. From 17 February to 4 March, Wang collected more than 3,700 nucleic acid samples. In a second incident, Bai Xiaohui, an expert in clinical medical examinations, suffered cardiac arrest and died on 20 March in Weihai, Shandong province. 

Doctors and nurses travelled from Zhejiang and Jiangsu provinces to help with compulsory testing in Shanghai. On 27 March at 1:00 am, they were notified of their dispatch, set off in buses at 4:00 am, and arrived at 7:30 am. They started work right away and had to complete their testing assignments by 4:00 pm. They did not eat, drink or rest in that timeframe. 

The Shenzhen lockdown from 14 to 18 March revealed the precarity of gig economy workers. Delivery workers slept on the streets, in tents, under overpasses, and by flowerbeds, covered only by quilts and a few layers of thick clothing.

Young migrant workers slept at the Longhua bus station in Shenzhen because their other rest spots were closed due to pandemic measures. These workers are sometimes referred to as Sanhe Dashen for their practice of working one day and spending the next three in internet cafes. Shenzhen residents, prevented from making a living under the lockdown, protested in Shangmeilin in Futian, and Nantou Street in Nanshan. 

There have been clusters of cases among construction workers and truck drivers. On 19 March, there were 12 confirmed cases and three asymptomatic cases at a construction site in Changzhou, Jiangsu province. Seven other construction sites were involved, and the city’s Housing and Urban-Rural Development Bureau suspended all construction sites for four days. 

Tianjin put Jingwu township, Xiqing district, into lockdown on 10 March. The first phase of the Yue construction site was designated a high-risk area. As of 13 March at 12:00 am, 33 people were diagnosed with Covid-19.

From 13 to 29 March in Zhangzhou, Fujian province, 11 people – truck drivers and their close contacts – tested positive.

The most significant cluster was at the construction site of the Jilin makeshift hospital. Nearly 90 out of 160 migrant workers tested positive. Caixin reported that testing was not carried out while work was underway. Workers were living in an abandoned school that had no water, electricity, or mattresses. About 300 workers slept on the floor in their work clothes, which probably increased the risk of transmission. 

Internet companies lay off workers

Several internet giants have reduced their staff in March. Tencent laid off 20 to 25 percent of staff from both its cloud and smart industry group and its platform and content group. 

Alibaba laid off staff in its lifestyle business department. The company retained only one-third of its employees in direct sales cities, and after some transfers, nearly half of its employees have been laid off. cut its retail department. The community shopping platform Jingxi Pinpin laid off 10 to 15 percent of its staff. Its retail platform ecology department, business improvement division, logistics technology, data intelligence and other departments all saw layoffs. 

Didi Freight employees told the media that 50 percent of employees were laid off. 

Employees said that they believed companies were gearing up for another round of competition. Companies described laying off thousands of workers as “optimising” or “graduating” employment.

Delivery industry to reduce delivery fees

Beijing, Guangdong, and Shanghai, among other places, have reduced fees for delivering packages. Beijing couriers said that the fees dropped after the Lunar New Year. Fees for picking up parcels dropped 2 to 3 yuan lower than before. In Jiangsong district, Shanghai, fees dropped from 2 yuan to 1.2 yuan per package. 

Couriers attributed this to more people looking for work. Couriers in Dongguan also said companies there have announced lower fees. In the summer of 2021, the government had vowed to increase fees in an opinion issued by MOHRSS and seven other departments.

Food delivery platforms change rewards and punishments

Jiemian News reported that Meituan will revise the way it evaluates delivery drivers. Negative reviews and fines for not meeting delivery times have placed huge pressure on delivery drivers, forcing them to speed and break other traffic regulations. 

The new rules introduce a point system where drivers have points deducted for missing delivery deadlines and bad reviews, and they have points awarded for participating in safety training. No points are deducted where there are extreme weather conditions. Meituan ranks riders on a monthly basis, and the ranking determines the driver’s rewards. Fifteen cities are piloting incentive mechanisms. 

Older migrant workers must retire from construction industry

Worker’s Daily reported that Shanghai, Tianjin, Shenzhen, Guangdong, Taizhou, Jiangsu, Nanchang, Jiangxi, Jingzhou, Hubei and other areas have set an age cut off for construction companies employing workers. Many first-generation migrant workers keep working past the legal retirement age because they aren’t covered by social security. 

Shanghai’s regulations ban men over 60 years old and women over 50 years old from working in the industry. The report noted that it was hard to find workers over 60 years old at sites, and few were over 55 years old. 

This decision was made mainly for safety reasons. In 2018, 15 percent of workers who died in accidents were over 60 years old, even though this age group only accounted for 1 percent of industry workers. 

The Shanghai Federation of Trade Unions said it will follow up on labour rights protection and coordinate to make sure workers over the retirement age have less physically demanding jobs, like being security guards, cleaners or property managers. 

However, security and cleaning are not easy, and older migrant workers have found these jobs difficult to obtain. Southern Weekend spoke to several migrant workers looking for jobs in Beijing and found that for construction, cleaning and security roles, recruiters required workers to be under 60 or 55 years old. 

Sleep survey

The China Sleep Index Report found that from 2013 to 2021, people’s bedtimes had been delayed from 10:30 pm to 12:23 pm, and that their total sleep time was reduced from 8.8 hours to 7.17 hours. 

The report also said that smartphones and other software mean that people often don’t have clear work-life boundaries. Work stress leads to less sleeping time and a reduction in sleep quality, even causing insomnia. 

Zhilian Research Institute and Just So Soul Research Institute released the “2022 Chinese Workplace Youth Sleep Quality Report.” The report found that more than half of young people stayed up late until the early hours of the morning. 

People working in transport, logistics, real estate, construction, IT, and internet industries are the most severely lacking in sleep. Geographically, those in southern China get the least sleep, with more than 20 percent in the region sleeping less than six hours per night. 

Sudden death of a Yunnan vocational school student after working overtime

Xiao Yang, a student from Yunnan Xinxing Vocational College, died suddenly on 11 February. From 30 December 2021, he was assigned to work in Longqi Science and Technology Park in Nanchang, Jiangxi province. 

He told the teacher who led the team that the night shift was too tiring and he wanted to change posts. His teacher told him to “keep going.” 

He fell ill on 6 February, but did not go to the hospital because he couldn’t ask for leave. This is far from the first time vocational school students have tragically died after raising concerns in the workplace. 

The latest regulation on vocational students’ internships, issued in 2021, states that students should not work overtime or on night shifts. This regulation is not being followed in the workplace. 

Sharp increase in graduates applying for teacher qualifications

At the beginning of March, the results for primary and secondary school teacher qualification exams were announced. Topics related to teaching qualifications trended online

China News Network found that the number of applicants more than tripled in recent years. In 2016, there were 2.6 million applicants for the teacher qualification exam, 4.1 million in 2017, and 9 million in 2019. 

In 2019, the test registration website froze because of too much traffic. In college entrance examinations, the teacher training major became more popular. Within the top 30 percent of students, 18.3 percent applied for teacher training in 2018, jumping to 33.4 percent in 2019. 

The competition for jobs for graduates is fierce, so teaching positions in some areas have dozens of applicants for each role.