CHINA: Hundreds of workers protest company beatings
Hundreds of workers yesterday held a protest in Pingshan (Shenzhen) outside DeCoro, an Italian sofa company, accusing supervisors of severely beating three employees who dared to ask for respect of the minimum wage. In November 2005 disputes had already taken place between the employees and the company with mutual accusations of violence made.
The three workers were admitted to hospital and one was in a coma. A Longgan police officer said the five men responsible for the attack had been arrested. The company confirmed that the protest had taken place without making other comments.
The protesters chanted slogans, demanded fair wages and asked police to punish the attackers. The protest finished at about 9am when most workers returned to their duties.
The workers said the management had tried to lay off 75 employees with compensation amounting to less than half the minimum wage, so they demanded a meeting with the company president. About 70 workers were present at the meeting but they were assaulted by 100 security guards armed with iron bars. Three were cornered and badly beaten.
Xi Ruigen, one of the injured workers, told the South China Morning Post: "Some men wearing uniforms suddenly broke into the meeting room and started to attack us. One of my colleagues suffered a serious rib fracture and lost consciousness."
In November 2005, more than 3,000 employees had already protested against the firm, claiming that an Italian supervisor had beaten three of their colleagues in a dispute over wages. Back then, a company director said the three workers were fired and had gone back to the factory and threatened the supervisor. But one worker, Liang Tian, said the company tried to make the workers accept a 20% cut in their wages on pain of dismissal, something the company denied. Another worker, Li Fangwei, said the company staff "regularly beat Chinese workers. They are like wolves. They are racists and treat us like slaves." Luca Ricci, president of DeCoro, had written a letter to apologise to the three workers and invited them to return to work, and the company has always maintained its salaries are among the best in the region.
The DeCoro firm is owned completely by Italians. It was set up in Shenzhen in 1997 and has a registered capital of 2.5 million US dollars. Its turnover increased from 10 million US dollars in 1997 to around 290 million in 2004. About 75% of its products are sold in the US.