independent

Wednesday 16 April 2014

American owner of Beijing factory held hostage by Chinese workers over pay dispute

Chip Starnes
Chip Starnes

WORKERS at a Chinese factory have reportedly held their American boss hostage in his office for four days over a pay dispute.

Chip Starnes, co-owner of Coral Springs, a Florida-based medical supplies company, told AP that local officials coerced him into signing off severance packages like those given to 30 co-workers in a phased-out department.

Because the company's plastics division is moving to Mumbai, India, he was in town to lay off its remaining 30 staff. Some of the workers in the other divisions got wind of this, and, coupled with rumors that the whole plant was moving to India, started demanding similar severance packages on Friday.

Mr Starnes sought to make clear that the remaining 100 workers weren't being laid off.

He said about 80 employees were blocking every exit and they were depriving him of sleep by shining bright lights and banging on windows of his first-floor office.

The workers have demanded wire transfers by Tuesday, but Mr Starnes declined to clarify the amount, saying he wanted to keep it confidential.

He said: "I feel like a trapped animal. I think it's inhumane what is going on right now. I have been in this area for 10 years and created a lot of jobs and I would never have thought in my wildest imagination something like this would happen."

Starnes said some employees have been working there for up to nine years, so their compensation packages were "pretty nice."

Workers inside the compound, a pair of two-storey buildings behind gates and hedges in the Huairou district of the northeastern Beijing suburbs, said they did not want to talk to foreign media.

Four uniformed police and about a dozen other men who declined to identify themselves were standing across the road from the plant.

Zhao Lu, of the Huairou Public Security Bureau, said: "As far as I know, there was a labour dispute between the workers and the company management and the dispute is being solved.

"I am not sure about the details of the solution, but I can guarantee the personal safety of the manager."

US Embassy staff stood outside the gate but said they had no comment.

It is not rare in China for managers to be held by workers demanding back pay or other benefits, though such incidents are rare in Beijing because many businesses have moved elsewhere in China because of high costs in the capital.

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