Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) - In Urumqi, the capital of Xinjiang, a migrant worker has blown himself up because his boss did not pay him. In the China of the economic miracle, workers have little protection, and injustices often lead to protests, some of them serious.
Yesterday afternoon, Han Wushun, a 42-year-old ethnic Chinese migrant worker from Sichuan, asked his bosses at Xinjiang Beixin Road and Bridge Construction Company for back pay of 4,500 yuan (about 450 euros). When he found out that he would not receive this, he blew himself up with a homemade bomb he was carrying in his backpack. The explosion killed him and injured the two managers, who were trying to get away.
Han had worked for the company in 2007, for three months. He sued for the back pay in 2008, but last July the court rejected his request.
Company sources say that he received what was due to him.
In the country, it is not unusual for companies to fail to pay their workers, and the phenomenon has increased because of the current economic crisis: according to official data, in Shenzhen alone in 2008, about 370 companies did not pay 102 million yuan in wages to 39,200 workers. The problem is so bad that in this city, the municipal office for social security and labor has put under observation all of the companies that are in trouble and have not paid salaries for at least a month.
The phenomenon is so widespread that in recent years, the government has preferred to reimburse back pay of hundreds of millions of yuan, in order to prevent unrest. In 2008, official sources admitted that at least 87,000 mass protests took place for economic reasons, often connected to injustices suffered by workers.
Recent official data are not available. At the end of 2006, 1.63 billion yuan in back pay was said to be owed to about 800,000 migrants in Beijing, 1.84 billion to more than one million migrants in Guangdong alone, and 130 million to 130,000 migrants in Gansu. The numbers are high if one considers that at the time, the monthly salary was 1,000 yuan. Those who do not receive their salaries face long and costly civil suits, with the risk that in the meantime the employer could drop out of sight: for this reason, most migrants are ultimately willing to settle for a portion of what they are owed. Protection for migrants is also difficult because less than two thirds of them sign a regular contract, according to a study by the ministry for labor and social security. During the Asian financial crisis at the end of the 1990's, there were many suicides by unemployed workers.