Toyota is latest car maker hit by strike in China

SHANGHAI: Strikes have hit two of Toyota's China-based parts suppliers in another sign of growing unrest among the migrant workers who are the backbone of the country's industrial sector.

Workers at a plastic parts factory of Toyota Motor Corp. affiliate Toyoda Gosei Co. in the northeastern city of Tianjin went on strike Thursday, forcing the plant's production line to shut down in the afternoon, said Toyoda Gosei spokesman Tomotaka Ito, at the company's headquarters in Aichi, Japan.

That walkout followed a one-day strike by workers at another Toyoda Gosei unit and Toyota supplier, Tianjin Star Light Rubber and Plastic Co., which ended Wednesday after the company agreed to review the pay for its 800 workers.

"We are continuing our negotiations with the workers. But at this moment, we don't know when we can resume production," Ito said.

He did not say how many workers were involved in the strike, which was aimed at seeking higher wages.

Staff at Toyota Motor said they were checking into the situation, but on Thursday the company said the automaker's car assembly operations in China were not affected by the disputes.

Strikes at several China suppliers of Honda Motor Co. forced it to suspend car assembly intermittently in the past month due to a lack of parts.

Workers at Honda Lock (Guangdong) ended a strike and went back to their jobs earlier this week after the company agreed to continue with talks on their demands for wage increases.

They were waiting Thursday for a reply from management about their demands, said a female staffer at the factory's human resources department, who refused to give her name.

So far, most of the auto-related labor disputes have been reported in southern China, near Guangzhou, where both Honda and Toyota have manufacturing bases along with their local partner Guangzhou Auto Group.

Toyota has a separate joint venture in Tianjin with FAW Group.

Although Beijing has so far said little about specific labor disputes, Premier Wen Jiabao earlier this week signaled the leadership's concern, urging better treatment for the country's legions of young migrant workers.

"Migrant workers should be cared for, protected and respected, especially the younger generation," the official Communist Party paper, People's Daily, cited Wen as telling a group of migrant workers in Beijing.

In a commentary Thursday, the newspaper said China's economic model is facing a "turning point."

"Raising workers' income levels and adjusting the gap between rich and poor is not just an emergency response to protect stability," said the author Tang Jun, a researcher at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, a government think tank.

A labor law that went into effect in 2008 has accelerated an upsurge in workers' awareness of their rights.

Meanwhile, there has been a generation shift between older migrant workers, who grew up in poverty and usually were the first in their families to seek non-farm work, and their children, who have higher expectations and less tolerance for low wages and harsh conditions.

Although public dissent is banned in China, authorities often tolerate sporadic, peaceful protests over local issues - perhaps as a way of relieving frustrations that could fester and erupt into violence.

The government also outlaws independent labor organizing outside its own All-China Federation of Trade Unions - an umbrella labor group.

Recent protests at mostly Japanese and Taiwan-managed factories have prompted a spate of commentaries, however, urging that the government-affiliated unions do a better job of mediating between workers and employers.

An emergency notice by the ACTFU to its members, reported by the official Xinhua News Agency, urged the unions to do a better job of protecting workers' rights and pushing for wage increases, especially in manufacturing.

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