AP: Guangdong factory fire kills 14

China Labour Bulletin is quoted in the following article. Copyright remains with the original publisher.

Associated Press in Beijing

5 December 2012

A former factory worker is believed to have started a fire in China that killed 14 workers at a clothing factory because he was angry about unpaid wages.

The suspect, Liu Shuangyun, told the Guangdong TV broadcaster in an interview from jail he started the fire "because I couldn't get my salary", which he had been owed since quitting the factory three years ago. Sitting on a chair with his hands in handcuffs, Liu said the factory's boss owed him 3,000 yuan (£286).

Asked whether he regretted the loss of life the fire had caused, Liu said, "I didn't think about these things."

Fourteen people were killed and one person was seriously injured in the fire on Tuesday afternoon in Shantou city in Guangdong province, the provincial emergency department said on its microblog.

Senior provincial officials set up a team to investigate and step up safety measures to avoid similar fatal fires, Guangdong's emergency department said.

The 14 victims were all women aged between 18 and 20, the Southern Metropolis Daily said in an online report, while the official Xinhua news agency said the victims were 13 women and one man. It said Liu, a 26-year-old migrant worker from Hunan province, had been arrested but it did not specify what charges he faced.

A photo accompanying the Guangdong TV report showed a four-storey building, lined with windows on each floor, its front completely blackened. The fire had not spread to an adjacent building.

Geoffrey Crothall, a spokesman for China Labour Bulletin, a Hong Kong-based workers' rights group, said that judging by the photo the factory, which made underwear, looked like "a fairly typical manufacturing workshop".

"In many of these places health and safety is not a priority," he said. "Many of these factories are very unpleasant places to work in."

Crothall said unpaid salaries were a major source of worker discontent in China. "A lot of this is related to the current economic climate," he said. "If companies are not getting paid for their products then they're not going to pay their workers."

Building fires are common in China because of lax safety codes and unsafe construction work.

A fire in April 2011 at an unlicensed clothing factory in Beijing killed 17 people. The fire happened in the middle of the night and anti-intrusion bars over the factory's dormitory windows were blamed for trapping victims inside.

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