Anyone But the Chinese Madagascar Workers Demand New Masters

'Anyone But the Chinese': Madagascar Workers Demand New Masters

Workers at an embattled Chinese-owned sugar refinery in Madagascar say they are no longer willing to work with the owners and are asking the state to intervene.

MORONDAVA, Madagascar — Workers at a Chinese sugar refinery in Madagascar, where a long-simmering labor dispute boiled over into deadly riots last week that left at least four dead, are unequivocal about what it would take to get them back to work.

"We do not want to work with the Chinese," Leon Clement, a workers' representative at Sucoma, said. "In front of government ministers, they promise to give us more rights, but they never do."

Bernard Jerome, another of the 2,000 people employed at the Sucoma plant in Morondava on Madagascar's west coast, said, "We're asking the state to find new partners. Anything but the Chinese."

As the dust settled on days of violence at the refinery workers recited a litany of grievances that had poisoned labor relations: miserly pay of about $37 a month, special privileges for a select few, humiliation and pressure for those lower down the food chain.

After months of wrangling between management and the workers, the protests turned violent in November. Two Chinese employees were injured in clashes, which caused damage to the plant. 

Tensions took a deadly turn last week after two of the workers' leaders were arrested. Two people were killed and nine injured in clashes between the workers and police. The following day, a security guard and a soldier posted to the factory were stabbed to death. 

Two policemen were also killed when their motorbike was run over by a truck in a separate incident, regional authorities said.

Around 20 Chinese executives have been evacuated to the capital, Antananarivo, after their living quarters were ransacked and looted. At the refinery, sugar stocks were plundered, machines were overturned, company jeeps were stripped for parts, and the tires of trucks used to transport workers were slashed. Shards of glass from smashed windows and documents littered the floor of the sheds. Some of the documents had been torched.

On Wednesday, a spokesman for the Chinese owners who saved the previously state-owned refinery from bankrupcy in 1997 said the company would seek compensation from Madagascar's government for the damage.

"To fix this company, it will take perhaps three years," Zhou Jianping said, adding the company would only consider firing back up the factory if the government could provide a "peaceful investment environment."

Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2014

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