About two thousand workers at China’s biggest private shipbuilder in the eastern province of Jiangsu have clashed with police after they blockaded the plant's entrance in protests over unpaid salary arrears, local media reports and workers said on Wednesday.
The workers from the Nantong shipyard owned by the troubled Rongsheng Heavy Industries have been on strike since Sunday after the company announced that they had to go on forced leave for a week.
The move came after several thousand workers were laid off by the company in recent months.
Workers blocked the four main gates of the yard on Tuesday, preventing visiting executives from a contracting company from leaving the site.
"We surrounded the bus and wouldn't let it leave," a protester surnamed Fang said in an interview on Wednesday.
"After that, there were some clashes with police."
Fang said the clashes were short-lived, however.
"They were going to detain one of our number, but we snatched him right back from them," he said.
The workers' strike comes after Rongsheng reported a loss of 49 million yuan (U.S.$8 million) in the first quarter of 2013, citing "the most difficult time yet" in the two recent quarters, shipping website SinoShip News said.
Rongsheng told the website it was currently negotiating with labor subcontractors, whom it claims have been fully paid by the company.
"The shipyard is in the middle of a transformation. We are confident and capable of solving issues in the process of the transformation," the official was quoted as saying.
While Rongsheng has around 6,000 workers on the payroll, it also uses more than 10,000 workers via labor suppliers.
Fang said the company had been badly hit by slowing demand in the shipbuilding sector, and that some workers' salaries hadn't been paid for as long as four months at a time since demand began to weaken last October.
Production has come to a full stop at the yard, he added, although workers were told they were to return to work next week after a week of leave that began Monday.
"We still don't know [whether they will give us our money]," he said.
An employee who answered the phone at Rongsheng Heavy Industries on Wednesday declined to comment, however.
"Our public relations department are all away on business right now," the employee said, adding that the business was linked to the dispute. "You will have to call again on Monday."
The company said in a statement issued after Tuesday's incident that protesting workers had been persuaded to leave the facility.
"In recent days, some workers who failed to get an (employment) offer have organized disruptive activities to our production by surrounding the entrance of our Nantong production base," the Wall Street Journal newspaper quoted Lei as saying in the statement.
"However, the crowd dissipated after we mobilized our team to persuade them and explain the policy of our group."
The company has laid off about 8,000 employees in recent months, according to the paper.
Lei Dong, secretary to Rongsheng's president, told the paper the layoffs are not a sign of financial trouble at the shipbuilder, but were rather the result of "restructuring," saying more than half the employees who were laid off were subcontractors and the remainder full-time employees.
Rongsheng had employed about 20,000 people at the beginning of the year, according to the paper.
The company failed to raise more than U.S.$2 billion from its 2008 IPO in Hong Kong, blaming the global financial crisis and postponing an initial public offering (IPO) until 2011.
Reported by Wen Yuqing for RFA's Cantonese Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.