The boss of a medical supply plant, who is from America, is being held hostage by scores of his Chinese workers who demand severance packages from the disbanding the company after 30 other workers who were laid off got them, according to The Associated Press.
Chip Starnes, 42, of Coral Springs, Fla.-based Specialty Medical Supplies, said local officials had visited the 10-year-old Beijing plant on the capital's outskirts and workers coerced him into signing agreements Saturday to meet demands even though he sought to make clear that the remaining 100 workers weren't being laid off.
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"I feel like a trapped animal," Starnes told the AP on Monday from his first-floor office window, while holding onto the window's bars. "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."
Workers inside the compound, a pair of two-story buildings behind gates and hedges in the Huairou district of the northeastern Beijing suburbs, repeatedly declined requests for comment, saying they did not want to talk to foreign media.
It is not rare in China for bosses to be held by workers demanding back pay or other benefits, often from their Chinese bosses, though sometimes the hostage situations involve foreign bosses.
The labor action reflects growing uneasiness among workers about their jobs amid China's slowing economic growth and the sense that growing labor costs make the country less attractive for some foreign-owned factories. The account about local officials coercing Starnes to meet workers' demands — if true — reflects how officials typically consider stifling unrest to be a priority.
Huairou district and Qiaozi township governments declined to comment on the hostage situation.
"As far as I know, there was a labor 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."
Starnes said the company had gradually been winding down its plastics division, planning to move it to Mumbai, India. He arrived in Beijing last Tuesday to lay off the last 30 people. Some had been working there for up to nine years, so their compensation packages were "pretty nice," he said.
Some of the workers in the other divisions got wind of this, and, coupled with rumors that the whole plant was moving to India, started demanding similar severance packages Friday.
Christian Murck, president of the American Chamber of Commerce in China, said he wasn't familiar with Starnes' case, but that such hostage-taking was "not a major problem" for the foreign business community, adding that it happened more often 15 years ago then today.
"It rarely leads to personal harm to the managers involved, but there are cases when it has in years past," Murck said.
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