Protesting workers released after 25 days in detention still face possible criminal charges

14 May 2012

Two workers were held in police detention for 25 days for allegedly imprisoning their factory manager in a dispute over unpaid pension contributions. They were eventually released on 29 April but the police have refused to say if the workers will be charged or not.

The dispute erupted on 2 April when around 130 employees at the Hengbao Jewellery factory in Panyu, south of Guangzhou, complained to management about the non-payment of more than one million yuan in pension contributions.

The workers demanded that the manager provide them with a written guarantee that the contributions would be paid but the manager, surnamed He, only agreed to a verbal promise and then called the authorities. After the authorities arrived He drafted a written agreement but without the company seal, which he claimed was in the hands of the factory owner who could not be reached. He also claimed that the workers had imprisoned him in his office, a claim refuted by several independent witnesses.

The following day, He offered another draft agreement but this time it was full of loopholes. When He refused to change the wording to accommodate the workers, the dispute turned violent and He pushed one of the workers, Xie Liuxian, to the ground. The workers called the police who took He and Xie to the police station.

He and Xie were released soon afterwards but two other workers, Cai Manji and Xie Yumei were summoned to the police station. The following day, 4 April, Cai and Xie Yumei were sent to the Shawan Detention Centre accused of the illegal imprisonment of Manager He. A week later, the workers were formally fired from their positions at the company.

The case illustrates how factory managers and owners can manipulate labour disputes to their advantage by provoking a confrontation and then using their connections with the local authorities to detain labour activists as a warning to others. However, in this case the colleagues of the detained activists stuck together and eventually the company agreed to pay the pension and other social security contributions the employees were owed.

See the timeline below for more details.


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