06/11/2005, 00.00
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China: no wages for migrants

150 million people who moved to find a job have yet to receive around 100 billion yen in arrears. To claim his wages, each worker must spend some 4,000 yen.

Beijing (AsiaNews/SCMP) – Chinese migrant workers have yet to receive around 100 billion yen – some nine million Euros – in salary arrears accrued since last November. Repeated promises from government sources have not come to anything and the payment of migrants' wages continues to be postponed.

According to the government union All-China, recovering outstanding wages could cost workers themselves around 300 billion yen: the amount is calculated on the basis of the estimated cost of food, transport, legal expenses, and the time spent by emigrant workers to try to recover their wages. Each migrant worker spends around 4,000 yen on this undertaking: Guo Zenguang, a migrant of Hebei, has spent around 4,700 yen and three years in a bid to get paid 1,000 yen in arrears, and still he has not succeeded.

In China, there are around 150 million such workers, who move to urban centres to work because of extreme poverty in rural areas. Migrants are constrained to work for extremely low salaries – even by Chinese standards – and for inhuman working hours: they have become the main work force in the construction and manufacturing sectors.

Official sources have frequently underlined the importance of this issue of outstanding wages. In January, vice-premier, Zeng Peiyan, said the public administration must undertake to guarantee migrant workers their outstanding wages before the next lunar year. This is because at that time, workers return to their place of origin for celebrations and it is socially unacceptable for a man not to have managed to take wages home for the family.

Lawyer, Xiao Weidong, said recuperation costs hinged on the extent of legal expenses: for this reason, and because court procedures take a long time – often between 13 and 25 days – workers are reluctant to make an application in court.

According to Prof. Li Jianfei of Renmin University (of the People) in Peking, more than 90% of workers in China do not have a contract and do not receive their salary in a regular manner. Even if government regulations stipulate that workers should be paid every month, many employers falsify receipts and do not give any wages, on the pretext of settling their accounts once every six months. Once they have their fake receipts in hand, they refuse to pay up, and their dependents have no way of seeking justice. Some workers have resorted to violence and attacked employers who refused to pay them, but many others opted to draw attention to their situation by committing suicide.

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