04/14/2009, 00.00
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Contradictions in China’s society: industrial workers and farmers at the bottom of the wage scale

Officially an industrial worker makes just over 1,300 yuan (US$ 170) a month, but the actual figure is much lower. Securities sector pays 11 times more whilst farmers have to survive on 400 yuan a month. More workers protest against unpaid wages.
Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) – The gap in average wages in China’s highest and lowest paid sectors has increased in favour of financial activities compared to industrial workers. At the same time hundreds of the latter are protesting in Chongqing because of unpaid wages.

According to figures released by the National Bureau of Statistics on 9 April, the national average annual wage in 2008 increased by 17.2 percent (4,297 yuan) compared with 2007, to stand at 29,229 yuan (about 2,000 yuan or US$ 250 per month). But employees in the securities sector made an average annual salary of 172,123 yuan, followed by other financial activities (87,670 yuan) and the air transport industry (75,769 yuan). The lowest paid sector was timber processing at 15,663 yuan (55 per cent of the national average) closely followed by textiles and food processing.

The government’s official wage data are not very accurate because they only include “staff and workers”, and do not take into account many employment categories, the China Labour Bulletin, a reputable workers’ rights publication, said. Government figures also do not take into people working in the underground economy.

According to official statistics, industrial workers make much more than rural workers who earned on average only 4,140 yuan a year in 2008, not much more than the previous year.

Given this situation millions of migrant workers who lost their job because of the current economic downturn have remained in the big cities rather than return to their native village where decent employment is scarce.

Even so industrial workers are often faced with employers who do not pay.

About 300 workers at the Jindi Industry Group yesterday blocked a main road in Chongqing municipality in protest because they had not been paid for three months, Xinhua reported.

According to official figures for 2006, unpaid wages in Beijing for 800,000 migrant workers were worth 1.64 billion yuan, 1.84 billion for more than a million migrant workers in Guangdong and 130 million for 130,000 migrant workers in Gansu.

In 2008 some 87,000 protests took place for economic reasons, this according to the Public Security Ministry.

About 23 million migrant workers have lost their job in recent months, raising fears about widespread protest.

For example earlier this month, more than 1,000 demonstrators reached Beijing from nearby Hebei Province in a protest march to petition the government about job losses at a textile company.

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