More than 100 workers at the Huizhou subsidiary of a major piling manufacturer have reportedly detained five senior managers for five days in a bid to ensure that an estimated 1.2 million yuan in wage arrears was paid in full.
The workers held the five managers from Shanghai Zhongji Pile Industry in the factory offices when they were visiting the plant in Guangdong on 30 June and refused to let them leave until their demands were met. The workers were concerned that the factory may be closed down or that they would be laid off after a change in ownership was completed in April, according to the Southern Metropolis Daily.
The company reportedly made assurances that all wage arrears would be paid and that the workers’ existing employment contracts honoured but the workers refused to let the managers leave, claiming they had no other way of guaranteeing payment.
One worker at the plant told Radio Free Asia (RFA); “we won’t let them leave because if they go then there will be no one left in charge, the company won’t send anybody else.”
RFA reported on Thursday 4 June however that there were signs the stand-off could be resolved soon.
The incident comes just one week after an American businessman was detained at his medical supplies factory in Beijing for six days in a similar dispute over wage arrears and concerns the factory would be closed down.
Both cases highlight the lack of effective channels of communication between workers and management, the mistrust many workers feel towards their employers, and their lack of faith in the ability of the Chinese legal system to adequately address their demands.
Factory closures and wage arrears continue to be a major source of tension between workers and managers in China. Figures from the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security showed that in 2012, the labour authorities received complaints from 6.2 million workers related to about 20 billion yuan in unpaid wages.
Given the current economic slowdown and the restructuring of manufacturing in major industrial centres such as Guangdong, it is almost certain that wage arrears, factory re-locations and closures will continue to cause problems this year as well.