Hundreds of textile workers clashed with police in the central Chinese province of Hubei over loss of income after their factory halted production, amid reports that five protesters were detained and others hospitalized, workers said.
More than 300 women employees of the Yinhe Jiutian Textiles Factory in Hubei's Xiangfan conurbation began a protest outside municipal government offices on Monday after management told them to "take a three-month holiday," after the factory stopped production.
But local authorities deployed riot police armed with batons, who beat up many of the workers, detaining five of them, protesters said.
"When we came to the city government today, they injured some of us, and they are still in the hospital, and the government didn't even [pay their expenses]," protester Shi Junfang told RFA on Tuesday.
Riot police had accused the women of "gathering a crowd to stir up trouble," and beat up a number of them, or shoved and dragged them in the ensuing clashes, she said.
"How were we gathering a crowd to stir up trouble? We were standing there, not even saying anything," Shi said. "Then they came over and dragged a few of us away ... onto their bus."
"There were 200-300 police, all men. We are all women, not nearly a match for them," she said. "No one came out [from the government offices]. We are still sitting in the complaints office, but they won't speak out on behalf of ordinary people."
Shi said workers had been told that their status would be decided after a three-month period of "leave." "But we don't have jobs now," Shi said. "What are we supposed to do?"
Meanwhile, protester Li Shuang told RFA on Tuesday she saw five women detained during the protest.
"Three hundred of us came here to the city government offices today," Li said. "We are outside the gates, and we haven't crossed the police line they have set up."
"We were just standing here, but then they took away five of our number," she added.
"[The police] said we were affecting civic pride standing here at the gates of the city government, so they detained our leaders," Li said. "The riot police carried them away."
The dispute was sparked by a "three-month furlough" imposed on the women by the factory, which gave them just 10 yuan (U.S. $1.60) a day each to cover living expenses during that time, the workers said.
According to the Sichuan-based Tianwang rights website, the branch factory where the women were employed has already been demolished, but employees were being given no severance or redundancy pay as stipulated by China's labor laws.
"Management said we should take three months off, but our factory has actually been demolished ... and all the production line has been taken away," Li said. "They don't want to give us the compensation they owe us."
"We want them to pay us according to the Labor Law [of the People's Republic of China], because 300 yuan (U.S. $49) a month isn't enough to live on; you can't feed a family on that," she said.
Officials who answered the phone at the police department and government offices in Xiangyang, one of the two cities that make up Xiangfan, declined to comment on the dispute on Tuesday.
According to a third protester, Kang Ling, most of the women have now lost all hope of getting their jobs back.
"They are saying that the land has already been taken over by someone, and that the factory made a loss for many years," Kang said. "But they wouldn't say whether they were bankrupt or not."
"They just gave us 10 yuan a day as a subsidy."
Kang said some 100-200 workers in a second factory owned by the same company were in a similar situation.
Chinese factories have been hit by a wave of industrial disputes amid a slowdown in economic growth, but the ruling Chinese Communist Party doesn't tolerate any independent organization of workers.
The party-backed All-China Federation of Trade Unions (ACFTU) is charged with protecting workers' rights, but independent labor groups and workers say it has a poor track record when it comes to negotiating with management and government officials.
Meanwhile, rights groups say police are increasingly employing public order offenses as a means of silencing peaceful activism on almost any topic.
The Hong Kong-based China Labour Bulletin recorded 202 labor disputes in the country during the first quarter of 2014, mostly in the manufacturing sector, a year-on-year increase of more than 30 percent.
Reported by Qiao Long for RFA's Mandarin Service, and by Hai Nan for the Cantonese Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.