Unpaid salaries: the desperation of China’s workers

There have never been so many threats of suicide, the China Labour Bulletin reports in its August-September survey. Protests against fraudulent bankruptcies and state-protected entrepreneurs are on the rise.

Beijing (AsiaNews/CLB) – Never before have so many construction workers threatened to commit suicide in protest against delays in wage payments, the China Labour Bulletin reports.

The Hong Kong-based NGO just released data for August and September 2016, indicating a record hike in such cases.

In August alone, there were nearly 100 incidents of construction worker collective actions, all protesting wage arrears. This spike comes ahead of the “Golden Week” holiday, which began with China’s National Day on 1 October.

Migrant workers hope to not go home empty handed despite construction projects going bankrupt or bosses simply refusing to pay them. Three cases of threatened suicide over wage arrears occurred at the same building in Neijiang, Sichuan on 14 and 15 August.

On 14 August, the fire department responded to emergency calls of a woman threatening to jump from the roof of a new 31-story building. The woman, driven to the roof by unpaid wages, was eventually convinced by police to come down.

The next morning, five workers climbed to the roof of the same building and sat on its edge passing hard liquor between among themselves. They came down after firefighters begged them to bring their case to the local government. However, when they did, they got no answer.

In Fengtai County (Anhui), workers occupied a Migrant Workers Rights Defence Centre when no officials turned up to answer their demands.

Workers then organised a sit-in in front of the building, accusing the authorities on social media of covering up for dishonest entrepreneurs.

Fengtai court replied to the workers via Weibo and asked them to put their trust in the legal system. In their reply, the workers noted, “For so long the local government never protected the rights of migrant workers. We can’t even trust the Rights Defence Centre.”

According to the China Labour Bulletin, 85 strikes hit in the construction industry in August, 85 in September.

Traditionally, China’s employers pay arrears and debts ahead of holidays. However, increasingly migrant workers, who number in the hundreds of millions and are the real force behind the country’s growth, are being denied back pay, especially in construction. Many, out of shame, committed suicide rather than return home empty-handed.

About 30 per cent of strikes and protests are linked to the construction industry, one of the most sensitive areas of the Chinese economy. In the past, it drove the country’s astonishing growth but is now going through a major crisis.