Hostile workers: US exec held hostage in China

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Collective bargaining frequently gets heated and hostile in North America, but it’s been a long time since we’ve seen managers taken hostage.

US business owner Chip Starnes told the Associated Press he feels like a “trapped animal” after four days trapped in his Beijing-based medical supply plant. Workers are demanding severance packages like those given to 30 former co-workers from a department that was closed, despite the fact that they are not being laid-off.

The company was moving its plastic production to Mumbai, India, but intended to keep the rest of its operation in Beijing. However, rumours were rife among workers that it was just a matter of time before the whole factory moved.

The action is not uncommon in China, where executives are often held over demands for pay or benefits, however rarely is a foreign boss involved.

“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 told an AP reporter through the barred windows of his second-floor office.

He was reportedly being deprived of sleep by the 80 workers on site around the clock, who were banging on windows and shining bright lights in his room.

The workers were expecting wire transfers this week but Starnes would not share the amount, citing confidentiality concerns.

As China’s economy slows and labour costs increase local workers fear factory owners will move production away from the area. There are reports of local officials encouraging Starnes to meet worker demands, showing their focus on subduing unrest.

 “As far as I know, there was a labour dispute between the workers and the company management and the dispute is being solved,” said spokesman Zhao Lu of the Huairou Public Security Bureau. “I am not sure about the details of the solution, but I can guarantee the personal safety of the manager.”


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