Twenty-three Chinese workers have been deported by Saudi Arabia after being arrested earlier this week for going on a strike in protest against "low pay", the Chinese embassy in Riyadh said Wednesday.
It could not be confirmed when exactly they went on strike but reports said it was before Saturday, said a newspaper based in Chengdu where all the workers are from.
About 200 workers from a suburb of Chengdu, capital of Sichuan province, working on a construction site roughly 1,000-km north of Riyadh, were part of the protest, Chengdu Business Daily said.
News of the arrest broke when Liao Xianling received a text message late on Saturday night from her husband in Saudi Arabia.
It read: "They (the workers) held talks with representative of the construction site, but failed. With guns, some people - supposed to be Saudi police - took 23 Chinese workers away We kept calling them but couldn't get through."
Her husband left for Saudi Arabia in November, she told the newspaper, but she had not received any money from him till now.
An earlier message her husband sent read: Sichuan workers were not paid fairly, so they decided to "solve the problem by going on strike".
Their arrest was confirmed when Zheng Qiao, resident of a village in Jintang township, received a text message from Zheng Yongcai, his fellow villager, at 2:21 am on Monday. "More than 20 people were arrested Tell their families to seek help from the Chinese government," it read.
All the Chinese workers on the Saudi construction site are from Jintang.
The Chinese embassy has confirmed the arrests but said the workers were safe and had already been released.
"They are all safe now and will be sent back home tonight (local time)," an embassy official surnamed Yang told China Daily over the phone yesterday. Going on a strike is against Saudi law, he said.
The Saudi government has stopped the media from reporting the incident because it does not want to harm the good relation it enjoys with China, Yang said.
The Chinese embassy, however, will investigate the incident further, he said.
Back in Jintang, a local official told China Daily that most of the 200 workers left for Saudi Arabia in three batches between August last year and this month.
The official surnamed Zheng, of the local bureau of labor and social security, said a Guizhou-based labor service company, Boshi Engineering and Labor Service, handled the workers' travel plans and service contracts.
The Chengdu Business Daily, however, said Boshi was not qualified to send workers overseas.
"The workers were told that they would get 6,000 yuan ($882) a month but were paid only 3,800 yuan on average," he said. Boshi could not be reached over the phone for comments.