More than 20 worker activists at a Chinese factory run by a Hong Kong-based company have been detained by police after a seven-week strike involving nearly 7,000 people, a rights group said yesterday.
The activists were rounded up over the past two weeks at the former Tianwang Textile Factory in Xianyang city, Shaanxi Province.
Around 10 of them were detained prior to Oct. 20, and the rest were seized by police over the past few days, China Labor Bulletin (CLB) said.
The Hong Kong-based rights group said the Xianyang Public Security Bureau has also issued a "wanted notice" for three other workers from the same factory, ordering them to report to police immediately. The factory and police refused to comment yesterday.
According to CLB, the duration of the strike is unprecedented in China since the country began its two decade old economic reform program. The workers, most of them women, began their action on Sept. 14.
They were protesting attempts by new majority shareholder China Resources (Holdings) Co Ltd, listed in Hong Kong, New York and London, to force them to sign what they considered new unfair labor contracts, CLB said.
The company has reportedly made some concessions, although the dispute is yet to be resolved.
According to the CLB, China Resources is refusing to give the workers compensation they are entitled to under government regulations for a change of status from state-owned enterprise workers to employees of a private company.
It said the police crackdown was likely prompted partly by the local authorities determination to prevent the workers from going ahead with a plan to elect a factory-level trade union.
"Government newspapers have been calling for several months now for foreign enterprises in China ... to respect the workers' legal right to establish trade union branches, and now the Xianyang authorities have detained more than 20 workers for trying to do precisely this," said CLB director Han Dongfang.
Hundreds of thousands of workers have been laid off with meager compensation in recent years as thousands of China's state-owned factories are transferred to private ownership.
Their anger has occasionally erupted into violent confrontations with former employers and authorities.