10/14/2010, 00.00
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Employers beat to death two workers in Sichuan; thousands take to the streets to protest

Employer responds to migrant workers asking for back pay by having them beaten. Two die in hospital from the injuries they sustained. Thousands take to the streets, block highway exit and clash with police. Calm comes back after the authorities pledge to punish the culprits.

Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Protests broke out in the city of Dujiangyan (Sichuan), in southwestern China, after employers beat to death two migrant workers. Last Sunday, more than 3,000 workers took to the streets, blocked a highway exit and clashed with about a thousand police agents, smashing their cars. About a dozen protesters were arrested. The demonstration broke up following the arrest of two of the people involved in the beating; others however are still at large.

On Monday, hundreds of migrant workers staged a protest at a highway exit leading to Dujiangyan. They dispersed and traffic resumed at around 11:30 am after Li Kunxue, chief of the Chengdu Public Security Bureau, promised the protesters that justice would be done.

Everything began on Saturday afternoon, when eight migrant workers asked their construction company, Jiaxun Labour Service Company, for back pay. Instead, they were roughed up.

The Xinhua news agency reported that one worker, Lei Yong, died as a result of the beating, and another, Liao Xinglong, was sent to hospital. Radio Free Asia reported instead the death of two people.

In Communist China, labour disputes are up, mostly over unpaid wages or better working conditions. Official figures indicate 295,000 labour disputes in 2008, 95 per cent more than in 2007. In 2009, that number jumped to 318,000. In the first eight months of this year, the number already stands at 207,400.

A study reported by the prestigious China Labour Bulletin, based on a survey of 350 workers in Hainan, found that one sixth of migrant workers in that province earn less than 500 yuan a month (US$ 75), far below the province’s legal minimum wage.

The reason is simple: reforms adopted in 2008 that included a minimum wage and basic workers rights have not been fully implemented. Most of the 350 workers surveyed by the union (55 per cent) earned between 500 yuan and 1,000 yuan a month. Only five per cent was earning more than 2,000 yuan a month. Not surprisingly, 90 percent of the respondents said they were not satisfied with their current level of income.

The local minimum averages between 680 and 830 yuan, depending on the city and company. Other workers complain that they work without a contract, or that their employer is months behind in paying wages.

Workers’ rights are poorly protected because China’s single trade union, the state-controlled All-China Federation of Trade Unions, rarely acts on behalf of workers against employers, this despite the fact that it has 170 million members.

Other trade unions are not allowed, whereas police is often called upon to smash workers’ protests even with the use of force.

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