Guangzhou shoe factory workers ask provincial trade union to secure release of detained strike leaders

A group of 56 Guangzhou shoe factory workers yesterday urged the Guangdong Provincial Federation of Trade Unions to intervene after seven of their representatives were detained by police for allegedly “sabotaging production and business operations” (破坏生产经营) at Xinsheng Shoes.

The workers met with the director of the federation’s legal division, Xu Pingjian, who reportedly said that the union had contacted the police department and promised to initiate a coordinated effort among different government departments to secure the workers’ release.

Workers from Xinsheng Shoes gathered outside the Guangdong Federation of Trade Unions on 11 November.

However, the federation claimed it could not represent the workers in their on-going dispute with Xinsheng over compensation terms related to the closure of the factory because of the tough stance taken by management.

The Hong Kong-owned company that exports primarily to Japan is planning to relocate the factory and is refusing to pay the workers’ social security, housing fund, high-temperature subsidies or any kind of severance compensation.

The workers have been staging strikes and protests over the last two months in a bid to get the company to engage in good faith collective bargaining. Management did agree to discuss some issues in late October but on the morning of 3 November, while waiting for another meeting, 14 workers including chief negotiators Qin Qingmei and Wang Liyan were thrown into the back of a police van. Seven of the workers were released later in the day but the other seven were transferred to the Panyu Detention Centre where they remain today.

News of the incident spread rapidly on social media in China, especially after veteran television commentator Yang Jinlin held an online discussion on the issue. Several lawyers have now offered to represent the workers on a pro bono basis.

Ge Yongxi, a Guangzhou-based lawyer representing Qin Qingmei, visited the detention centre on Monday but police refused to let him meet with Qin claiming that she was being questioned at the time. Ge said:

Some may argue that the police did it intentionally to prevent me from seeing her, but I tend to be more optimistic. The authorities are very unlikely to press charges in this case because the workers have done nothing illegal. This detention is simply a way to try to intimidate them.

Wu Zhengfen, a 27-year-old worker who was among those detained and subsequently released on 3 November agreed, pointing out, “All of our protests have been within the factory grounds and no one damaged any property.”

I was a bit scared when those four policemen grabbed me and threw me into the back of the truck like a bag of rice but when I got to the police station it seemed that I was more convincing than the officers who were questioning me. I know I am simply defending my rights and I have nothing to fear.

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