A report released by an international labor rights group says China's "economic miracle" has come at a price: millions of Chinese are unemployed, underpaid and exploited.
While members shouted slogans like "Workers rights! Human rights!" in front of the Hong Kong office of China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs Friday, the Brussels-based International Confederation of Free Trade Unions handed over a report on the situation of China's workers.
The ICFTU report says China's economic success is based on the exploitation of its workers, who have no effective representation.
While economic growth in China has exploded and exports have boomed, the report says the level of inequality in the country has also grown.
It says that a few have become rich, while millions are living on less than two dollars a day.
The confederation criticizes the working conditions in many Chinese companies. It reports long working hours, low wages, sub-standard accommodation and lack of safety. At least 15,000 people die of industrial accidents in China each year, particularly in the mining sector.
Lee Cheuk Yan of the Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions says the exploitation and suppression of workers has resulted in growing social unrest. " We are warning the Chinese government that this poverty will be like a time bomb unless it is being handled by the Chinese government properly, if it respects workers' rights to freedom of association, the right to organize trade unions - or else, we believe, there will be more social unrest," said the spokesman.
The ICFTU report says China has a major unemployment problem and needs to create up to 300 million jobs in the next 10 years for people entering the labor market.
The confederation says China's successful poverty eradication of the 1980s, which was mainly based on agricultural reform, has stagnated since the 1990s.
Janek Kuczkiewicz, ICFTU human rights director, said China's integration into the World Trade Organization has made things worse for its workers. "China has increased its share in the international trading system at the cost of an increase in inequality and social injustice in China, which deeply affects the workers," he noted.
China's Foreign Ministry refused to comment on the report.