The Indian Express | 2 weeks ago | 17-01-2023 | 02:40 pm
Written by David Pierson, Keith Bradsher and Muyi XiaoAfter China’s abrupt reversal of “zero Covid” restrictions, the nation’s vast machinery of virus surveillance and testing collapsed, even as infections and deaths surged. Now, authorities face another problem: Angry pandemic-control workers demanding wages and jobs.In the southwestern Chinese city of Chongqing, hundreds of workers locked in a pay dispute with a Covid test kit manufacturer hurled objects at police officers in riot gear, who held up shields as they retreated. Standing on stocks of inventory, protesters kicked and tossed boxes of rapid antigen tests on to the ground, sending thousands of tests spilling.In the eastern city of Hangzhou, witnesses said several workers climbed on the roof of a test kit factory and threatened to jump to protest unpaid furloughs. And at a separate test manufacturing plant in the city, workers protested for days over a wage dispute.The unrest this month highlights a little-noticed aspect of the social and economic fallout from China’s “zero Covid” policy U-turn. Mass testing was a cornerstone of China’s strategy of isolating the virus before it could spread. But Covid testing of any sort is no longer in high demand. Companies that manufactured test kits and analysed results in a lab are seeing their revenues plummet, leading to layoffs and pay cuts for their workers. One report suggested that mass testing in large cities accounted for about 1.3% of China’s economic output.The consequence has been a new source of turmoil that challenges the ruling Communist Party’s efforts to maintain stability amid high youth unemployment, a flagging economy and an explosion of Covid across the country. China said on Saturday that it had recorded nearly 60,000 fatalities linked to the coronavirus in the month since it lifted “zero Covid,” though experts said the actual death toll was likely much higher.The New York Times visited three Covid test making factories in Hangzhou where workers and residents confirmed that there had been labor protests in recent days. At one plant operated by a firm called Xinyue Biotech, a fire truck, an ambulance and a police van could be seen in the factory yard on Wednesday responding to a worker who had climbed on to the fifth-floor roof and threatened to jump to protest unpaid wages. The shuttered plant had been the scene of days of demonstrations, witnesses near the factory said.The Times also examined videos that have circulated on social media of protests in Hangzhou as well as Chongqing, where workers confronted the police in large numbers.The disputes in Chongqing and Hangzhou could portend more unrest to come. Many among China’s armies of “big whites,” low-level government workers charged with enforcing Covid restrictions and named after their signature white hazmat suits, have been let go, muddying an already volatile labor market.Factories across China are still strapped for cash amid the broader slowdown. Workers have next to no recourse to resolve their grievances other than to lash out, said Li Qiang, founder and executive director of China Labor Watch, a New York-based Chinese labor rights group.“These protests have been very violent because the channels to defend workers’ rights are very limited, while the trust toward the government and laws is low,” Li said. “It demonstrates that if a company ignores workers rights, especially the most vulnerable temporary workers, it will face serious consequences.”In Chongqing, protesters at a test kit manufacturer chanted “Pay me back” as they faced off with lines of police on Jan. 7. It was not immediately clear what sparked the dispute between workers and the test kit manufacturer, Zybio. Videos posted on social media leading up to the protests warned of labor agencies in the area exploiting job seekers by inflating how much work Covid test manufacturers were offering and how much they would pay.The Times verified the location of the Zybio protest videos by matching buildings in videos with online photos and satellite images of the industrial park. One clip showed protesters throwing plastic containers, stools and a traffic cone at police equipped with riot gear. The company did not respond to requests for comment, and several protesters contacted by The Times declined to be interviewed.In Hangzhou, protests flared after workers at the Acon Biotech plant were told at the start of this month they would be furloughed for two weeks because the company’s revenues had dwindled since “zero Covid” measures were dropped.One employee who participated in the protests, who agreed to speak only if not quoted by name given the political sensitivity of labor unrest, said workers were enraged by the furlough because it meant they could not earn money before the Lunar New Year, which starts this weekend.At one point, distraught employees threatened to jump off the roof of a company building. The workers were finally given 3,000 yuan, or roughly $445, apiece a week ago, and the bulk of the workforce then left for the holiday.Many Chinese testing companies had been amassing fortunes during nearly three years of stringent COVID containment measures. But the emergence of the highly transmissible omicron variant made containing the virus all but impossible, and China abandoned the strategy in early December.Even without omicron, China’s strategy of mass testing was proving financially unsustainable. Many local governments — already under significant financial pressure from the slowdown and a dearth of land sales for real estate development — struggled to pay for the millions of free swabs that residents were ordered to take virtually every day.To fund testing and other pandemic controls, money was diverted from public projects in some provinces, while cities cut bonuses for officials and imposed pay cuts on civil servants. Several provinces and municipalities, including Guizhou in China’s southwest, began charging for the tests.Lab testing firms that earlier reaped huge windfalls began reporting that governments were late on payments, leaving them exposed to bad debt. Among them was Dian Diagnostics, a large testing company in Hangzhou, which reported in October that the amount of money it was owed had surged by nearly 80% compared with a year before.Shenzhen Hezi Gene Tech, another fast-growing testing firm, opened six new labs across China in October only to shutter half of them in the last few weeks. It was unclear if the closures were spurred by debt or a lack of business. The company did not respond to a request for comment.“The whole industry has been hit particularly hard with the elimination of mandatory testing in the country. The demand is no longer there,” said Yanzhong Huang, a senior fellow for global health at the Council on Foreign Relations, who argued that “zero Covid” had been partly prolonged because it served so many business interests.“They made a lot of money working for the government implementing ‘zero Covid,’” Huang said of labs and test manufacturers.Just how disruptive the collapse of testing and all the employment associated with Covid controls will be to China’s economy remains to be seen. The lifting of “zero Covid” will remove constraints on economic activity, and that could spur growth that would overshadow the loss of Covid-related businesses, said Taylor Loeb, a senior economic analyst for Trivium China, a consulting firm.“A lot of these jobs were never going to be long-term, stable employment opportunities,” Loeb said.To many migrant workers, the timing could not be worse. Employees are usually eyeing bonuses and counting their savings in the weeks leading up to Lunar New Year so that they can travel home for the holiday, settle debts and lavish their family and friends with gifts.In Hangzhou, a tense standoff between the police and hundreds of workers at an Alltest Biotech factory devolved into a shoving match Jan. 9, a video showed. Dozens of them were taken away by the police, several eyewitnesses said in interviews.Workers hired by a temporary employment agency on Alltest’s behalf had complained they were being paid less than permanent workers, according to an employee interviewed at the factory gate, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter. An employee who answered a phone at Alltest said operations had returned to normal, but declined to provide a name or discuss the unrest.
PANAJI: Two days after Union home minister Amit Shah said water-sharing issue between Karnataka and Goa was “resolved” by his party to allow diversion of water to Karnataka in consultation with the Goa government, two BJP ministers of the Pramod Sawant-led government came down heavily on Shah and said it was “condemnable and unacceptable” and no discussion had taken place on water diversion.“I condemn the Union home minister’s statement tooth and nail. We are not against in-basin use of Mhadei’s water. But we are against the water being taken outside its basin by Karnataka for use. It may be anybody, if they speak of out-of-basin use of water of the Mhadei, I will condemn it,” state environment minister Nilesh Cabral said on Monday.State water resources minister Subhash Shirodkar also said Shah’s statement was “unacceptable” and no discussion had taken place on diverting the Mhadei water to Karnataka when the Goa delegation had met the home minister.The ministers’ remarks come close on the heels of widespread anti-BJP sentiment on the Mhadei issue with gram sabhas across the state accusing the government of saying one thing and doing another. Cabral, who is also the law minister, said if the Centre did not support Goa, the state has plenty of legal options still available. He said that the House panel formed in Goa will be meeting Shah in Delhi shortly and will ask him when such a consultation was made with Goa.Goa has filed a petition before the Supreme Court to stop Karnataka from carrying out construction activities based on the detailed project report (DPR) approved by the Centre to divert water from the Mhadei. The petition is likely to come up for hearing on February 13.“The Mhadei Water Disputes Tribunal has only given permission to Karnataka to use water for drinking. Now, the statement made (by Shah) is that the water will be used for irrigation. We don’t know what this is,” said Cabral.“I have come here today (Saturday) to tell you that BJP, by finding a solution to the long-pending fight between the two states (Goa and Karnataka), provided the Mhadei water to Karnataka, which will be beneficial to farmers across many districts of Karnataka,” Shah had said at a public rally at Kittur in Belagavi district.Cabral reiterated that chief minister Pramod Sawant had not held any discussion whatsoever with Shah over diverting the Mhadei water in Karnataka’s favour.“I am backing the CM 100% on this. He has not made any such statement (before Shah) and he will not make it. I don’t know how Amit Shah is making this statement,” said Cabral.He said the Goa delegation had earlier gone to meet the home minister in keeping with the legal provision wherein the home minister holds negotiations to resolve any dispute existing between two states.“We don’t have any elections here, so I am condemning his (Shah’s) statement. We have two options. We can resolve it with the support from the central leadership. And if we don’t get support, we have the legal route. We will go to the courts. Ultimately, the judiciary will take all angles into consideration and decide,” said Cabral.“I do not accept the home minister’s statement. When we met him, no such discussion took place. He told us that there are BJP governments in Goa and in Karnataka and that our interests will be taken care of,” said WRD minister Subhash Shirodkar.
VASCO/MARGAO: Citizens protested outside the Mormugao Port Authority (MPA) on Monday demanding that the MPA stop coal operations and immediately shift to green cargo and cruise tourism. They said that a large number of steel and power plants, which are water-guzzling industries, have been proposed near the Malaprabha river basin, and that coal handling in Goa and the diversion of the Mhadei are linked.The protesters said that the Mhadei is being diverted only to benefit these steel plants and not for the farmers or drinking water purposes for locals, as is being falsely portrayed. The coal used by these steel plants is being transported from MPA to Karnataka via the rail network, they alleged.“If coal handling is stopped in Goa, the water consumed by steel plants, which is much more than the diversion proposed, will be available for farmers in Karnataka. If coal handling is allowed in Goa, the diversion of the Mhadei at Kalsa and Bandura and, subsequently, the diversion of other rivers flowing across state borders is inevitable,” the protesters stated in a memorandum to the MPA chairperson. A large number of citizens held a peaceful rally under the banner of United Vascokars and Goans. “The coal transportation is purely for the steel plants and the profit of private corporations. There is no benefit for Goa,” the citizens stated in their memorandum to the MPA. “The Mhadei water crises will be resolved only when coal handling and transportation are stopped at MPA,” said green activist Abhijit Prabhudesai. The protesters condemned the state government for its failure to protect the state’s interests.
PANAJI: The preliminary meeting of the House committee to study issues related to the Mhadei water diversion is scheduled on February 8 at 3.30pm. The 12-member committee is headed by WRD minister Subhash Shirodkar.The other members of the committee include Fatorda MLA Vijai Sardesai, MLAs from BJP, Congress, MGP, AAP, RG and independent MLAs.Sardesai and Curtorim MLA Aleixo Reginaldo Lourenco had written to Shirodkar to call an immediate meeting of the House committee following Union home minister Amit Shah’s statement that BJP has resolved a three-decade old issue by providing water to Karnataka with the help of Goa government.During the recently concluded winter session of the state legislative assembly, chief minister Pramod Sawant had announced a 12-member committee following demands by opposition MLAs.Former CM and ex-speaker Pratapsingh Rane had said, “The House committee must take a quick decision. We are waiting for a quick decision from the committee, else they will go ahead with the work.”
PANAJI: Chief minister Pramod Sawant said on Monday that Goa has a strong legal case on the Mhadei issue, and that the state would work towards protecting the river.“Once again I am repeating that we are legally strong in the Mhadei fight, and soon you will see the results,” said Sawant. The Supreme Court is likely to hear the interlocutory application filed by Goa on February 13. The petition seeks to stop Karnataka from construction activities based on the detailed project report approved by the Centre to divert water from the Mhadei. tnn Sawant’s statement, after paying floral tributes at the martyrs’ memorial at Azad Maidan, comes in the wake of Union home minister Amit Shah’s declaration that the over three-decade-old Mhadei water sharing issue between Karnataka and Goa was “resolved” by his party to allow diversion of water to Karnataka with the help of the Goa government.Shah’s comments came even as the state is trying to stop the illegal diversion of the Mhadei by Karnataka. At the four-day winter session, after a seven-hour discussion, the Goa assembly unanimously approved a resolution urging the Centre to withdraw the approval granted to Karnataka for the Mhadei diversion.In view of Shah’s statement, village panchayats across the state condemned Shah’s statement. The opposition, too, has demanded that the House committee on Mhadei discusses the issue before it’s too late.The Union home minister on Saturday congratulated the Karnataka CM and the state leaders for having “done a great job by taking along the BJP government in Goa and quenching the thirst of Karnataka by providing Mhadei water”.“I have come here today (Saturday) to tell you that BJP, by finding a solution to the long-pending fight between the two states (Goa and Karnataka), provided the Mhadei water to Karnataka, which will be beneficial to farmers across many districts of Karnataka,” Shah said, addressing a public rally at Kittur in Belagavi district.Earlier, Sawant had led a delegation to Delhi to meet Shah and Union jal shakti minister Gajendra Singh Shekhawat to press the state’s demand to withdraw the approval granted to the DPR. The state also demanded the formation of the Mhadei Water Management Authority to stop illegal diversion of water from the Mhadei basin by Karnataka.
PANAJI: Indian Hotels Company Limited (IHCL), the hospitality arm of the Tata Group, has prepared a robust expansion roadmap for Goa, and intends to invest around Rs 300 crore in new properties in the state. The company is looking to add to its existing portfolio of 23 hotels in Goa by opening up several new resorts over the next two to three years.Among the new projects IHCL intends to set up is a “super luxury dream project” at the Fort Aguada and Taj Holiday Village, Sinquerim.“There are a lot of projects in the pipeline that we want to showcase in the next few years. One of our dream projects is going to come up at the Fort Aguada and Taj Holiday Village. We want to pump in a lot of money into the state,” senior vice-president, IHCL-Goa, Vincent Ramos, told TOI in an exclusive interview.Currently, IHCL operates 23 resorts and homestays in the state, and has emerged as the largest hospitality chain in Goa’s tourism sector. IHCL operates resorts under a group of brands, which includes Taj, SeleQtions, Vivanta, Ginger, and homestays under the ama Stays & Trails brand.Led by IHCL’s chief executive officer and managing director Puneet Chhatwal, IHCL aims to have around 1,700 rooms in Goa under its portfolio by December 31.“Goa has been the largest market. Goa’s expansion has been the largest in our portfolio, and it has been the fastest. We are growing in other states, but not as aggressively as the way we are growing in Goa, and that is why you can see the huge profits,” said Ramos.In 2021-22, amidst the pandemic, IHCL raked in a profit of Rs 160 crore just from Goa. The state contributed 45% to IHCL’s topline in 2021-22, but going forward, this is expected to settle at around 40%.Despite Covid-19 acting as a dampener on tourism and travel, IHCL saw sustained demand from domestic and international travellers for Goa. The opening of Goa’s second international airport at Mopa has also prompted the Tata Group to place large bets on North Goa.“We are expanding exponentially in Goa. SeleQtions, Ginger, and ama Stay & Trails will witness new additions. Right now, our investment in the hotels that are in the pipeline and the ones that have been recently opened up would be around Rs 300 crore,” said Ramos.Asked if IHCL has identified plans to set up a resort next to the greenfield airport, Ramos said that the company would certainly like to be the first mover. “We are looking at potential opportunities around the new airport, however, nothing has been confirmed yet,” he said.Ramos said that the company is in close discussions with the government and local partners to set up the new resorts. He said that over the next 24 months, IHCL will focus on the Ginger brand, which has proved to be a success for the company. “Ginger is our success story in Goa because we make 60% of our profit there,” he said.Given the rapid expansion plans for the state, IHCL is well en route to strengthen its position as the largest hospitality chain in Goa.