Shanghai - A wildcat strike at an IBM factory in southern China illustrates how tectonic shifts under way in the country’s labour market are emboldening workers to take matters into their own hands, raising risks for multinationals.

More than 1 000 workers walked off the job last week at the factory in Shenzhen, bordering Hong Kong, after managers last Monday announced the terms of their transfer to new ownership under Chinese PC maker Lenovo Group.

Lenovo agreed in January to pay $2.3 billion (R25bn) for IBM’s low-end server business.

The strike, which continued yesterday, fits a pattern of growing industrial activism as China’s economy has slowed. A worsening labour shortage has shifted the balance of power in labour relations, while smartphones and social media have helped workers organise and made them more aware of the changing environment.

“Chinese workers, after being exploited for so long, are now more and more aware of their rights and united. They have more of an idea of collective action,” labour lawyer Duan Yi said.

A report by the advocacy group China Labour Bulletin last month said that it had tallied 1 171 strikes and protests from the beginning of June 2011 to the end of December 2013. Many protests during that time were sparked by the closure, merger or relocation of factories. – Reuters