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There was a massive outbreak of protests in the Chinese megacity Chongqing on January 7 after thousands of workers were suddenly laid off by Zybio, Inc., a company that manufactures Covid-19 test kits.
Videos emerging online show furious employees destroying boxes of Covid text kits and vandalizing company offices. Some images also show workers clashing with police in riot gear. In a rare scene in China, police forces withdrew from protestors as they dodged cones, water bottles, and plastic boxes that protestors hurled at them.
Zybio laid off roughly 8,000 employees by telling them to leave for the Chinese New Year, which is still 2 weeks away. The notification to take off for the holiday signaled the abrupt end of the workers' employment.
Many of the employees who were laid off had been recruited by the company last year to meet the demand for Covid test kits as part of China's zero-Covid policy. The expected demand never reached the manufacturer as Chinese leaders ended the zero-Covid policy abruptly in early December, which killed the need for mandatory PCR testing
The layoffs were the latest challenge in a recent rash of hardships for Chongqing. The megacity, with a population of more than 30 million, has seen continuous lockdowns over the past 3 years, massive protests in November, and then a large surge in Covid cases in December. For many workers, the unexpected layoffs were the breaking point.
An anonymous employee of Zybio accused the company of breaking its promise to workers, saying, "The company told us to leave, but it didn't tell us when to come back and if it would pay us our wages." According to the worker, the manufacturer had not only promised higher wages, but also a 3,000 yuan (approximately $438) bonus to employees who would work before and after the Chinese New Year.
The employee believes that Zybio had a large order come through at the beginning of December and hired an additional 6,000-7,0000 workers during that period to meet the demand.
The worker said, "[Zybio] recruited more workers at the beginning of December. They said that they would pay the bonus in three installments: the first installment of 1,000 yuan (roughly $146) would be paid if we worked until January 21, and other installments would be paid if we worked until February 15."
"I was assigned to make nucleic acid extractors in July. We earned pretty good income in November, about 8,000 yuan to 9,000 yuan ($1,170 to $1,316) for the month," the employee said. November saw the highest income for workers.
The downturn came when the CCP abruptly ended Covid lockdowns and ended mandatory PCR testing in December, leading Zybio to terminate approximately 80 percent of its workforce.
The layoffs were conducted in an offhanded way which infuriated employees. The anonymous worker said, "No management showed up or explained to us what was happening. Only a person from the recruitment company came and shouted at us, using a loudspeaker, and told us just to leave." According to the employee, workers were told, "You just go as you're told to do so! Don't create any trouble!"
Protests erupted shortly after, with riot police showing up along with the head of the Dadukou District government. The protests ended once Zybio agreed to pay the employees. According to the worker, protestors were told they would receive their December wages on January 7 and their December wages on January 8. Workers will also receive a 1,000 yuan ($146) bonus if they choose to stay with the manufacturer.
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