Shenzhen Workers Demand Pay

Police move in to quell rising protests in China's former industrial boomtown as hundreds of workers at a closed factory gather to demand three months' back pay.
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Workers and riot police in Shenzhen.
Workers and riot police in Shenzhen.
Provided by a bystander.
HONG KONG—Hundreds of workers laid off from a paper goods factory in the southern Chinese city of Shenzhen clashed with police this week after gathering on the streets of the former economic boomtown to demand back payment of wages.

"In 20 years in Shenzhen I have never seen anything like it. The moment they arrived, the police started beating people up," a protesting worker surnamed Li said.

"They didn't treat us like human beings. They were very violent. Two people had to go to hospital. There were 10 or 20 light injuries. They even beat people who were holding babies."

The clashes broke out outside a factory belonging to the Hong Kong-invested Meifu Watong Paper (Shenzhen) Co. in the light industrial suburb of Baoshui, in Shenzhen's Futian district, on Wednesday.

"They have detained 11 people who still haven't been released," a second former Meifu Watong employee said.

"The police at the Baoshui police station have already said that they will be detained under criminal law but they haven't informed the people's families. Their relatives had to go and ask before they would tell them," he added.

User-generated video without voice-over.

Government promises answer

An employee who answered the phone at the Baoshui district police station declined to comment.

"I can't check your identity over the telephone so I am unable to tell you how many people are being detained here right now," he said.

An official who answered the phone at the Futian district government offices also declined to answer questions on the incident.

Workers say they are owed three months' back pay by the company, which was first registered in Shenzhen in 1995, but closed its doors in September after running into financial trouble in March.

Local labor bureau officials promised to mediate in the dispute, in which the head of the company has already said he has no funds to pay the workers, who were also promised severance payments by the company last month.

The government has promised the workers an answer by Monday.

Calls to the company's Baoshui factory went unanswered during office hours Thursday, and calls made to parent company Hong Kong Shunfeng Watong Paper Co. weren't connected at all.

Wave of closures

An employee at the office of the Shenzhen municipal government labor affairs bureau responsible for mediating the dispute said he believed the money had already been paid to the workers by the government.

"I heard that the back pay had already been given to them. But for the details you will have to go through other channels. This is the office where the workers come to request mediation, and that process is now already out of our hands. Yes, I know [about the protests]. I don't know much about it, though."

Hundreds of thousands of migrant workers have begun flooding back to their hometowns in recent weeks, as the global financial crisis begins to force factories to close their doors in the once-booming coastal regions.

Officials in Guangdong province, where Shenzhen is located, say many companies in one of China's busiest manufacturing regions, the Pearl River Delta, are now in trouble amid dwindling orders from key markets like the United States.

Beijing has approved a U.S. $586 billion stimulus package designed to increase domestic demand and help the country’s economy cope with the crisis.

Original reporting in Cantonese by Grace Kei Lai-see, and in Mandarin by Ding Xiao. Cantonese service director: Shiny Li. Mandarin service director: Jennifer Chou. Translated and written for the Web in English by Luisetta Mudie. Edited by Sarah Jackson-Han.





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