The ordeal of Specialty Medical Supplies owner Chip Starnes, who was held hostage in China by employees over concerns related to unpaid wages and rumoured layoffs, received extensive media coverage in the United States. He ultimately secured his release nearly one week after being sequestered by negotiating a deal worth approximately US$500,000, according to Qmed. The incident did not create much buzz in China, however, writes Kelly Gao, Editor of China Medical Device Manufacturer, simply because it is not that uncommon. She offers her opinion and insights here.
Writes Gao: Actually this news was totally ignored by us, because there is so much news every day in the Chinese media about workers demanding unpaid wages by barricading the factory and using other extreme means. The only thing different this time is that the boss is a foreigner. I think this is also a good promotion point for the media.
Based on what I have read, this action was precipitated by unpaid wages and rumours that the factory was closing. If it’s true that the workers were not being paid properly, I think the company should take some responsibility because it didn’t honour the legitimate rights of its workers. Secondly, I think transparency and communication is all important. When rumours started circulating among workers that the factory would be closed, the company didn’t clearly communicate its intentions.
Actually in China, workers historically have been in a weak position. Many improvements are needed in China’s laws and regulations to protect worker benefits and rights. The Chinese government has made some efforts in this direction, implementing laws over the years to protect workers and regulate layoff practices.
I sincerely hope this incident does not the affect the confidence and enthusiasm of foreign companies and investors coming to do business in China.