Workers at a strikebound Honda Motor <7267.T> parts factory in southern China pressed on with a drive to win higher wages on Monday even as the Japanese carmaker lured some back to partially resume production.
Officials at Honda's Tokyo headquarters said negotiations were proceeding with workers at the factory, leaving four other plants idle at least through Tuesday after being closed for most of last week.
China, the world's fastest growing major economy, has been hit with a string of labor disputes at foreign firms, whose migrant workers have begun to demand better pay and working conditions.
Workers at Honda have been on strike for higher wages and more benefits since May 22, hitting Japan's No.2 automaker with thousands of units in lost sales in the world's biggest market.
The strike's duration is unusual in China, where foreign investors have come to count on a low-cost and disciplined labor force.
The Communist Party-backed All China Federation of Labor Unions discourages independent worker activism, and generally sides with management.
Honda said employees were gradually returning to work at the transmissions plant in Foshan in Guangdong province and that assembly had restarted in the late afternoon.
That might enable a factory that exports Jazz subcompacts to restart on Wednesday, Honda spokesman Hideto Maehara said.
A second spokeswoman in Tokyo, Tomoko Uchida, said Honda did not know when operations would return to normal. A China-based spokesman earlier said talks with workers had been completed.
A few dozen striking workers at the parts plant said up to 80 workers had been fired for refusing a pay increase that they said amounted to 11 yuan ($1.60) a month. Honda said it could not immediately confirm the dismissals.
And about 30 workers told reporters at the factory gates that they were unhappy with how official trade unions were representing them. Some said they had been roughed up by union officials, displaying scratches underneath their shirts.
It's a matter of dignity, said one young worker who declined to give his name. What they're offering us is not enough to live on.
About 100 representatives of the official workers' union then confronted the workers at the gates, attempting to push them out of the factory grounds as police and reporters watched.
Full-time workers at the plant earn about 1,500 yuan a month. But a large contingent of the workforce is made up of vocation school interns, who earn less.
The interns were asked to sign a mini-contract pledging to abide by China's Labor Law and agreements between their school and Honda obliging them to stay out of any strike, according to a copy of the May 27 contract obtained by Reuters.
Honda, which lags Toyota Motor <7203.T> and Nissan Motor <7201.T> in China, operates car ventures with Dongfeng Motor Group Co <0489.HK> and Guangzhou Automobile. It also has a small plant making its Jazz model for export.
It said the two plants held with Guangzhou Auto would close at least until Tuesday, while Dongfeng Honda's factory would remain closed until Wednesday. Including the export plant, Honda has the capacity to build 650,000 cars a year in China.
Some foreign companies have begun to take corrective action in view of worker discontent.
Taiwan's Hon Hai Precision Industry Co Ltd <2317.TW> plans to raise workers' salaries by about a fifth at its Foxconn International <2038.HK> unit in China, as it struggles to stop a spate of worker suicides and quell rising public anger. Foxconn makes Apple Inc's iPhone.
More than 1,000 workers at a parts factory near Beijing that supplies South Korea's Hyundai Motor <005380.KS> suspended work for most of Saturday to demand higher wages. They returned to work after management promised a pay rise, local media reported.
There was a little production disruption on both May 28 and 29, but it has been back to normal operations since May 30, a Hyundai spokesperson said in an email from Seoul.
Honda shares ended down 0.3 percent at 2,770 yen, in line with Tokyo's transport sector subindex <.ITEQP.T>.
(Additional reporting by Fang Yan in SHANGHAI, Gary Ling in FOSHAN, Alison Leung in HONG KONG and Kim Yeon-hee in SEOUL; Writing by Lucy Hornby, Editing by Ron Popeski))