The firm's sales director says: "An exaggerated incident. This is not a wage cut but a redistribution of the salary grid". The workers charge: "They are racist. They treat us like slaves."
Shenzhen (AsiaNews) More than 3,000 employees of the DeCoro sofa company took to the streets of Shenzhen yesterday to protest against one of their supervisors, an Italian who they claim maltreated three of their colleagues in a dispute over wages.
Contacted by AsiaNews, Giovanni Prati, the firm's sales director, said "the scuffle broke out after three workers who were fired tried to get back into the factory by climbing onto a truck. Our supervisor was threatened and the incident broke out then".
According to the Hong Kong media, yesterday morning, the workers marched from the factory in Pingshan industrial estate to a highway. The protesters shouted slogans like "Enough violence", "Restore justice" and "Protect our human rights", however they were dispersed by riot police armed with shields and clubs.
One worker, Liang Tian, claimed that the company tried to make the workers accept a 20% cut in their wages on pain of dismissal. Liang said he tried to reason with the supervisor who however lost patience and hit him. "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." Another worker, Li Fangwei, said it was not the first time they had been maltreated: "They regularly beat Chinese workers. They are like wolves. They are racists and treat us like slaves."
Thousands of workers rushed to their colleagues' aid as soon as they heard the news: the crowd called for an official apology from the management and for the supervisor to be justly punished.
Luca Ricci, president of DeCoro, wrote a letter to the three workers who were admitted to hospital and invited them to return to work, but many employees were dissatisfied. They said the company was making good profits, but still wanted to cut their pay. "We reported the case to police but they did nothing," one said. "We don't trust the authorities anymore. We will protect ourselves."
"DeCoro is one of the firms which pays the highest wages in the region and which treats its workers the best. What we are trying to do is a redistribution of the salary grid in terms of composition, certainly not of content," said Prati. "The situation went completely back to normal once the workers understood the move: we have put the incident in the hands of the police."
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. The total revenue this year has been estimated at US0 million. About 75 per cent of its products are sold in the US.
The workers are paid by 'substitute money' valid only in a few shops owned by the company which employs them; those working late are denied their dinner.