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Shenzhen workers strike over beatings, wage dispute
Updated: 2005-11-03 14:30

Workers at a factory for the Italian sofa maker DeCoro were striking to protest alleged beatings by a foreign supervisor amid a dispute over pay cuts, workers and local reports said Thursday.

The standoff highlights growing tensions between workers and management in southern China, where migrant laborers willing to work for minimal wages are not as plentiful as they once were thanks to growing opportunities in other regions.

Staff at DeCoro's factory in Shenzhen, an industrial zone bordering Hong Kong, said production had stopped with nearly 3,000 workers staying away to protest an alleged attempt by management to cut wages.

Employees took to the streets Tuesday and were due to meet Thursday with local labor department officials who were attempting to mediate in the dispute, said a worker contacted by phone who would not give his name or title out of fear of punishment by his bosses.

The protesters were further incensed over allegations that a group of foreign managers had beaten three workers, he said.

The Hong Kong-based public relations executive named as a media contact on DeCoro's Web site was out of the office but answered an e-mailed inquiry by saying she would respond "as soon as possible."

Reports said riot police armed with shields and clubs dispersed Tuesday's protest. Factory managers gave workers a "day off" on Wednesday but had been expecting them to work on Thursday, according to a report by the state-run newspaper Southern Metropolitan Daily.

According to that report, and one in Hong Kong's South China Morning Post, the dispute erupted after workers discovered last week that their October paychecks were smaller than expected. The reports' explanations of the reasons for the reduction differ, but the result was that a group of 10 workers was dismissed for confronting management over the issue.

When those workers tried to reenter the factory on Monday, they were surrounded by four or five "foreign" supervisors and beaten, the reports said, without specifying nationality.

"I was the first to be beaten. He pulled me up and punched me hard in my stomach. I was knocked out for a few seconds. He stamped on my face while I was lying on the ground. It was really humiliating," the Post quoted Liang Tian, one of the workers, as saying.

It said Liang and two other workers were hospitalized for treatment.

Another of the workers accused factory managers of regularly beating employees.

"They are like wolves. They are racists and treat us like slaves," Li Fangwei was quoted as saying.

The newspaper said DeCoro's president, Luca Ricci, had written a letter of apology and appealed to staff to return to work.

Ricci founded DeCoro in 1997 with the express purpose of using inexpensive, skilled Chinese labor to handcraft Italian-style leather sofas for the U.S. market, where about three-quarters of its products are sold.

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