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Chinese in Romanian job protest

Hundreds of Chinese textile workers are on strike in the Romanian town of Bacau, north-east of Bucharest.

They are demanding better pay and living conditions. About 400 Chinese women, the first to be employed legally in Romania, have asked for their monthly after-tax pay to double, from $350 to $700. But their manager has refused, saying it would bankrupt the textile company. He has accused employment agencies in China of inciting the workers. The Chinese employment agencies take a commission from the workers' monthly salary. Sorin Nicolescu told the BBC that he was paying about 1,200 lei ($450) to each worker before tax. That is roughly equivalent to the average wage in Romania. Nicolescu said he had also offered to reclaim the $5,000 which he says every worker paid employment middlemen in China. He has also alleged that some of the Chinese workers have assaulted him. Romania faces a severe shortage of skilled workers in the garment industry, since many of them have sought employment in Western Europe.

Neighbouring Moldova, where most people are Romanian speakers, is also heavily involved in the garment industry. So to fill vacancies, Romania has had to import skilled workers from China. The 400 Chinese women arrived in Bacau last year, but since then have been totally isolated. None of them speak Romanian and only a few can muster basic words in English. They have complained that the food is bad, although the manager has hired a cook specialising in Chinese food. "We are hungry all day", one Chinese worker told the BBC, explaining that the Chinese food was very poorly cooked. Meanwhile, Chinese diplomats have visited Bacau and spoken to the workers and the local authorities. A small number of workers have said they want to return to China, and up to 100 others are said to have agreed to return to work. But the majority are still on strike and Nicolescu has said he wants to bring over other workers from a different region of China. The Italian embassy has also stepped into the dispute, summoning Nicolescu for an explanation, since Wear Company is partly Italian-owned. (BBC NEWS)