Fourteen slave workers were rescued from a small brick kiln in the remote area of Huizhou, Guangdong, on Wednesday, but it is believed several dozen more remained in the hands of the kiln owners last night.
The workers were from seven provinces, regions or municipalities - Guangdong, Guangxi, Hunan, Guizhou, Sichuan, Shaanxi and Chongqing. They had to work for 15 hours a day but received little pay: a worker was paid 5 yuan (HK$5.98) after working for three months, the Guangzhou Daily reported yesterday.
Some workers said they were cheated by illegal job agencies and sold to the kiln owners, who were not arrested, for 400 yuan each. Huang Ruiming, said he was kidnapped by thugs in his hometown on Saturday and taken to Guangdong.
'We were not allowed to make any phone calls after being taken here. I was even followed by the thugs when going to toilet,' Wang Yaxing, one of three underage workers rescued, told the Guangzhou Daily. 'They didn't let me go home, and they beat me.'
Officials from the Lilin town government helped rescue the workers after receiving the report from the newspaper. They said the kiln had opened about eight years ago and said they would check about a dozen similar kilns nearby soon.
It is the second slave labour case in Huizhou in less than three months and triggered a public outcry, asking for harsher laws to protect workers.
More than 100,000 mainland internet users commented on the story last night, asking why local labour and public security authorities had not acted earlier and did not arrest the owners.
'I had heard of similar cases several times recently, but why had no owners [of the brick kilns] been punished?' one of the posts said.
The general office, labour office, and police station of the Lilin town government declined to comment. Employees of the departments said they knew nothing about the case and could not give phone interviews.
Zhu Lieyu, a Guangzhou-based lawyer and delegate to the Guangdong People's Congress, also questioned why police did nothing to the brick kiln owners.
'It's definitely illegal to restrict people's personal freedom, and the police should arrest the owners [of the brick kiln] at once,' Zhu said. 'The police seemed to know little about the law.'