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When the chips are down…

Managers and HR professionals who deal with trade disputes in the UK will be thankful that they don’t work in China after a story emerged last week about US business owner Chip Barnes being held “hostage” by his staff following a dispute about pay.

It seems that the 80 members of staff of Speciality Medical Supplies based in Beijing became concerned that the factory was closing down, and that they would not receive any severance payments or arrears of pay they were allegedly owed. In the UK this would clearly be the territory for a good, old fashioned grievance but the Beijing staff had other ideas. The staff apparently “barricaded” the exits to prevent Mr Starnes from leaving the factory, and shone bright lights into his office and banged on his windows to stop him sleeping.

After nearly week, a deal was eventually struck between a (presumably tired) Mr Starnes and the local labour official, who confirmed that the deal was “to each side’s satisfaction”.

The local police were aware of the situation but did not intervene as it was classed as a “business dispute”(!). The New York Post note that such “hostage” situations are common in China and this is often the stance taken by local officials.

Mr Starnes described the incident as “humiliating” and “embarrassing”, but, in an ‘every cloud…’ moment of optimism, sent a text message stating: “Yes!! Out and back at hotel. Showered. 9 pounds lost during the ordeal!!!!!!” It’s unclear whether Mr Starnes was referring to his weight or his bank account.

So the next time you’re dealing with a grievance or trade dispute, spare a thought for your colleagues in China, and be thankful that you don’t need to pack a toothbrush and some spare underwear before you meet with your staff!

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