05/07/2008, 00.00
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Chinese migrants in heavy debt after having worked on the Olympic dream

The story of migrant worker Zheng , proud to have been part of the Olympic labour force, but swindled out of his salary by the building companies. And by a State that is more concerned about its image on the world stage than every day justice.

Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) –This is the story of Zheng, who came to Beijing full of hope and happy for the Olympics, and who worked only to find himself in serious debt.  It is a story of China today, this great nation which is using the Olympics to promote itself on the world stage, but forgets justice for its own people.

Zheng came to Beijing 5 years ago, together with an army of migrants drawn by the huge demand for manual labourers to work on the Olympic project and proud for his nation.  In September he was called to work on the urgent completion of terminal 3 of the new Beijing airport and at the request of his employer brought 16 friends from home with him to speed up the work.

But – he tells the South China Morning Post – when one of his friends broke a leg on the job, the construction company Beijing Jingyi Weiye Stainless Steel Decorations denied all responsibility because it had sub-contracted the work to another company.  The workers were unaware of this and had no written contract.  The labourer sued Jingyi Weiye and after some months had passed was compensated for a total sum of 45 thousand Yuan (circa 4,500 Euro). But then the company claimed that there was no more money to honour back payments of salaries due, amounting to 30 thousand Yuan, and told the labourer to take his case up with the sub contractor without indicating who this other company was.

Zheng never received the back payments and has to pay rent on three rooms rented in the southern suburbs of the Beijing where the workers he recruited lodge.  He wants to sue Jingyi Weiye, but he needs a written delegation from each of the other workers, most of whom have failed to return to the city in the wake of the New Lunar Year holiday, even though they still demand money from him.

In February his wife and year old daughter joined him in the capital. They had hoped to find work and to be able to live together.  But, now that building has ceased on the Olympic infrastructure, there are less job opportunities in Beijing and migrants are being strictly controlled.  Most migrants have already left, because there is more and better paid work in other provinces.  His wife earned 1,000 Yuan (100 Euro) a month in a shoe factory in Hunan, but she has so far only found part time and badly paid jobs in Beijing.

Zheng too wants to leave in search of better opportunities, but he cannot until he has found the money to pay the men he recruited: he has even given them 10 Yuan of his life savings.

There are only 3 months to go to the Olympics, but Zheng is no longer enthused, for him the Games have only served to “heap debt” upon him.  For years now employers in China have failed to pay migrants, particularly in construction where companies simply disappear once building has finished.  He says he believed it would be different for the Olympics in the capital.  But now he comments that “if this can happen in Beijing, what hope have we got in other cities?”.


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