Jiangsu Students Riot Amid Teachers' Strike Over Pensions

Hundreds of students at a private high school in the eastern Chinese province of Jiangsu have rioted in support of a teachers' strike, educators said Thursday.

Students at the Donghai Foreign Languages School in Jiangsu's Lianyungang city smashed windows and tore up textbooks late on Wednesday in support of the strike by more than 200 teachers over pay and benefits.

"A number of police vehicles appeared [at the school on Wednesday] afternoon, and the students thought that some kind of incident was happening, so there was something of a riot," a teacher who gave only his surname Yu told RFA on Thursday.

"They tore up some textbooks, and ... smashed up a few panes of glass," the teacher said.

Asked if the students had also made their own complaints about the level of fees they had to pay, Yu said: "That's right, they did make those demands."

He said the school's management team was currently in talks with teachers and local officials to try to end the strike.

Civil service status

Teachers in China can be hired on civil service or non-civil service contracts, and those on the latter frequently complain of wages that are below a minimum living standard and often go unpaid for months.

Directive No. 32, issued by the central authorities in 1997, called on local governments to put all teachers on civil service contracts, which carry higher wages and more benefits, including pensions. But cash-strapped local authorities have dragged their feet over the new rules.

A second teacher surnamed Miao said the school had recruited large numbers of civil service teachers when the directive started up, on the promise that their existing pay and conditions would be upheld by their new employer.

"The government ... refuses to admit this ... and that's why the strike happened," he said.

"[On Wednesday] evening, the students saw that the teachers were on strike and wanted to join their side," he said.

"Some kids decided to tear up paper and some glass got smashed in the canteen, and then the county leaders started to sit up and take notice."

"The head of the county government ... and a lot of police, riot police and armed police, came to the back of the school, but we teachers still wouldn't give in, so it is being sorted out this afternoon," Miao said.

Demand for reinstatement

Yu said the teachers were demanding the reinstatement of their civil service terms and conditions promised to them a decade ago when they joined the school at its founding.

"Our benefits should be commensurate with those of civil servants, or only very slightly less than theirs," Yu said. "We have grown old over the past 10 years, and we are fast approaching retirement, so we don't know how we'll manage if we don't have civil servant status."

Recent decades have also seen mass layoffs of graduate "cover" teachers who were lured into a career conversion program by the promise of a job for life and state benefits such as pensions and healthcare.

School principal Wang Shuyang said the teachers had agreed to resume work on Monday.

"Class will resume on Monday. The government is dealing with this matter," Wang said. "There is no problem."

"The county government has already restored their civil service status."

Reported by Xin Lin for RFA's Mandarin Service, and by Lin Jing for the Cantonese Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.