As many have read in recent news, an American business executive
was held captive by employees of his medical supply factory outside
of Beijing. The workers were reportedly worried about wages,
layoffs, and the factory closing. While not harmed (he was
brought three hot meals a day and allowed access to his attorneys),
the executive was not allowed to leave the factory for six days
until he agreed to what he called the workers'
While it is unsettling that such "hostage" situations
occur, what is perhaps more unsettling is that the local police
were reluctant to intervene – deeming it a
business/private dispute, and that the U.S. Embassy – while
checking on the manager's welfare and making sure he had access
to his lawyers, did not appear to be able to provide much more
assistance. However, such actions should not be viewed in a
China vacuum, as similar conduct has occurred in other countries
such as France and Russia.
What has caused workers to take such actions? One possible
reason is China's economic slowdown, with workers growing
increasingly uneasy about their jobs. In China, (unconnected
to the above situation), it is not uncommon for "runaway
bosses" to leave a place of business with employees in
financial straits with unpaid back wages when a business shuts
down. Reportedly, as many as 400 bosses ran away from
bankrupt factories in 2008 alone in certain provinces. These
actions may have caused employees to believe they have to take
matters in their own hands, including taking their managers
hostage, rioting or protesting in recent years. Additionally,
as seen in the most recent incident of the American executive being
taken hostage, the police did not intervene to have the executive
Coupled with the rising costs of doing business in China, such
workplace situations may further deter foreign companies from long
term investments. As one of the world's largest and
continually developing economies, China will need to consider the
legal accountability of companies and employees, the financial and
legal protection for workers, and the protection of managers from
being taken hostage and other similar actions.
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Long experience representing many of Australia's leading employers has taught us that in employment litigation the identity of an employee's representative is a major factor in how employee litigation runs.
This WHS decision clarified the interpretation of s 19 of the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 (NSW).
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